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7 Tips To Improve Your Attention Span And Focus Instantly

7 Tips To Improve Your Attention Span And Focus Instantly

Your attention span is the amount of time you can concentrate on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation. The average focused attention span in 2013 was 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000, and one second shorter than the average attention span of—a goldfish (9s). Some of you have already lost focus reading this article, and many of you won’t make it to the end (17% of all page views last four seconds or less).

But for those of you who do continue reading, you will find seven tips to help you improve your focus and attention, hopefully becoming a more efficient and productive individual at home and at work.

1. Get some exercise.

Physical activity can help improve your attention and focus, as it releases chemicals in the brain that affect learning and memory. Even better than a cup of coffee, exercise can provide a short-term boost to your mental and cognitive performance, making you smarter and making it easier to focus. Who wouldn’t want to be smarter?

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2. Drink more fluids.

A 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition found that mild dehydration—which can be so slight that you don’t notice or feel thirsty—can lead to inattention. The age old adage or recommendation of 8 glasses of water has been debunked (although drinking water is very important), with the Institute of Medicine now believing that for most of us, the recommended amount of beverages, including water, would be approximately 9 cups for women and 12.5 cups for men. So drink up!

3. Take stock of the important things in your life.

Take some time to think. What tasks or assignments cause you the most worry and stress? These are most likely the most important things in your life. Once you do this and determine where you will dedicate your focus, you can break these important things down into smaller tasks which are easier to accomplish and will add up, moving you forward to the larger overall objective.

4. Get rid of obvious distractions.

Today’s society is built on a foundation of technology and the ability to be connected to everyone everywhere all of the time. However, that saturation with “connection” is one of the root causes of inattention and lack of focus. On average, an office worker checks their email THIRTY times in ONE hour. So, when sitting down to focus on a task, you can close all irrelevant tabs, stay away from checking email, and settle in a quiet environment. If you are constantly getting text messages and Facebook/Twitter notifications, set your phone aside for a predetermined amount of time.

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5. Work on one set objective at a time.

Multitasking is the enemy of focus. While most people will profess to have the ability to do multiple things at once, the scientific truth is that when attempting to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously, none of the attempted tasks are completed at the highest level. Constant switching between tasks takes away from getting the other done.

So take a singular objective, and let that be your sole focus until the work you have planned is completed. You will find yourself making more significant progress and feeling less stressed.

6. Take numerous small steps.

A popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, or make going to the gym a part of their daily routine. While these are important and admirable goals, these large tasks cannot be accomplished without the completion of several smaller steps. So in any instance when you feel like your attention span is waning and your focus is slipping away, determine what small steps you can take to move towards that overall goal.

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If you need to go grocery shopping, you:

  • Plan a time to go to the store.
  • Make a list.
  • Get dressed.
  • Get your keys.
  • Get in the car.
  • Go to the store.

Accomplishing each step on this list, no matter how small, brings you closer to completing your overall objective. Making this type of thinking a habit will improve your focus in the future.

7. Focus—and REfocus.

The key to improving your attention span is what you do when you reach your limit. Sustained attention is the level of attention that produces the consistent results on a task over time. If the task is handling fragile objects, such as hand-washing delicate crystal glasses, then a person showing sustained attention will stay on task and will not break any dishes. A person who loses focus may break a glass or may stop washing the dishes to do something else.

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Most people are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 40 minutes at a time, so sooner or later, you will lose focus. But people who have great focus realize when they get off track and choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same task. This ability to renew attention permits people to “pay attention” to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as long movies. So improving your attention span becomes a cycle of focus, distraction, and REfocus.

What are some other tips that you have used to personally improve your attention span and focus? Share and leave a comment below.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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