It was recently revealed that goldfish, those little creatures that float in a small bowl all day, have a longer attention span than the average human being, at least according to a recent study by Microsoft.
The research found that human beings’ attention spans have dropped from 12 seconds in 2010 to a piddly eight seconds in 2015. The study conductors used surveys and even EEGs (electroencephalograms) to monitor the brain activity of online gamers. It seems our ever-present mobile phones, digital media, and “screen” lifestyles are having a negative effect on our ability to concentrate on one thing for a lengthy period of time.
“Canadians with more digital lifestyles (those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts, or earlier adopters of technology) struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed,” reads the study. “While digital lifestyles decrease sustained attention overall, it’s only true in the long-term. Early adopters and heavy social media users front-load their attention and have more intermittent bursts of high attention.”
Uh, oh. So what can you do to improve your attention span? Is it even possible? Here are some tips that are widely accepted to help increase your focus:
Physical activity releases chemicals in the brain that impact memory and learning. In other words, it boosts your cognitive ability, thereby making it easier to focus. Don’t forget that sex counts as exercise (on some level), so… you do the math.
Figure out what’s important in your life
Take stock of your life’s priorities. Chances are the things that are the most important to you (significant other, family, kids, your work) are what’s causing the stress in your life. Each of these will do battle with one another, and make it more difficult to focus on just one thing. Once you figure out what’s most prevalent in the moment, you can break that down into smaller tasks and accomplish those one by one. Try to take the pressure off by reassuring yourself that you can’t do a million things at once.
Drink plenty of fluids
A hydrated brain is a more agile brain. Even slight dehydration can make you more sluggish, irritable and prone to not focusing.
Force yourself into activities that require steady focus (preferably one task, not multiple)
If your attention span is horrible, you need to become a master of single-tasking. An example of that would be a class, a course, or even something as fun as a movie (in a THEATRE, not at HOME, where the option of cruising your phone is way too easy). You have no choice but to pay attention to the task at hand, and the social pressure of being in public will make you less likely to give into distractions, like…say…your phone, especially in a crowded theatre or small class.
Work on one thing at a time
Nothing will kill the attention span faster than simply having too many things to do. It’s so easy to give up when we’re overwhelmed. They key here is to create a list of things that need to be done, and then slowly, methodically, complete them one by one. This will fall into place once you establish what’s most important (as we told you, above).
If there’s any task that requires complete singular focus, it’s meditation. While it’s not for everybody, give it a try. The emphasis is on breathing, and after multiple sessions, you may surprise yourself with your ability to pay attention. There are many apps and websites offering the basics, so go explore. Just don’t end up on Facebook, OK?
You can’t be “on” all the time. It’s not possible and it’s not healthy — it’s why so many people burn out. You need downtime to recharge, to let your mind wander; so while you dedicate some of your time to increasing your attention span, be sure to take a break now and then. Your mind (and body) will thank you.
Get rid of distractions
They’re everywhere. Practically every single thing in your apartment, on your computer and on your phone can pull you away from something you have to do. There’s no way you’re going to focus on the task at hand when you have TV, a slew of video games or an adorable pet nearby. Make a list of what you need to do, prioritize, and clear away the rest. To motivate you even further, when you’re done the task, you can then reward yourself with whatever distraction you put out of sight.
Did you make it all the way through this article? Good. You’re showing promise.