March 21, 2023
Lost In Distraction: Focus & Our Shrinking Attention Spans
By: Carly Peterson, BASc
Do you ever feel like a dog who has just spotted a squirrel? One second you’re thinking about last night’s dinner - the next you’re barreling through a field without a thought in between? Probably not exactly, but perhaps you’ve fallen victim to various other daily distractions. Like opening your phone to check a quick message, only for it to lead to 20 minutes of scrolling! We live in a busy world and distractions are coming at us from all directions. It can be difficult to stay focused on a task for long periods of time, it takes a lot of practice, determination and awareness. So, let’s dive into this paradoxical world where the internet has made knowledge more accessible than ever before, yet our attention spans seem to be dwindling faster than a melting popsicle on a hot summer day! If you struggle to stay focused in the day-to-day, check out these tips:
When you have a to-do list a mile long, or a project that must be completed, it’s important to set clear goals for yourself (1). Decide ahead of time what you would like to accomplish and set yourself up for success. Eliminate even the smallest of things that can break your concentration. Create an ideal environment for yourself that is unique for you to thrive and get to work.
Put your phone on silent - or better yet leave in another room.
Don't multitask - you may think you are good at it but it is likely to make you less productive and attentive to detail (2).
Build your ideal space - there is no one size fits all when it comes to work environments (1). Some of us prefer a silent and tidy space, while others may prefer music or busy spaces. Small differences even in temperature can affect how comfortable and distracting your space is (3).
Train Your Brain
To strengthen your body - you go to the gym and exercise. But what do you do if you want to strengthen your mind? You must do mental exercises for your brain. The ability to focus is like a muscle, the more you work it the stronger it will become (2). The more you work your focus muscle, the easier it will be to stay concentrated (1). Some ways to workout your brain are:
Read a book - a long one preferably. Reading takes a lot of dedication and concentration. Committing to finishing a book is great exercise to improve your focus muscle.
Play mind games - not the ones that cause anxiety, fun games like counting or memory games. Crossword puzzles and Sodoku are great tools to get your mind focused and working (4).
Listen - lectures, podcasts or audiobooks require a lot of focus and attention. Listening to these regularly will not only teach you something, but they can improve your attention span for other tasks (5).
Move Your Body
It is important for your brain to be in top shape in order to stay concentrated and focused. The brain and body are in sync. If the body is not thriving, the brain will struggle also. Sitting for long periods of time is connected to poor cognitive function and your performance can suffer as a result (2). If you are working on a project or task, schedule a set amount of time for movement (3).
- Take a 15 minute walk outside
- Perform household chores that require movement (sweeping, vacuuming, etc.)
- Stand up and do some stretches
If you are not actively working on something that requires your full attention, there are many benefits to participating in daily exercise and movement. Try to find time to get moving and get some fresh air to improve your mental awareness all around.
Food for Thought
…but actually. You can improve your mental function in many ways, but incorporating certain foods and eating habits into your daily life are proven to help strengthen your mind. You have probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, well it’s true! Starting your day off with a hearty and healthy breakfast is a key step to enhancing your ability to focus and concentrate (3).
Berries - blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries! These delicious berries can reduce brain inflammation and prevent memory loss.
Fish - that are low in mercury (try salmon, cod, bass) are full of omega-3 fatty acids which are great for brain health.
Leafy Greens - can boost cognitive function. Try kale, spinach, or broccoli.
Healthy Fats - avocados, almonds, seeds and fish (6)
As always, practicing mindfulness brings awareness to your actions and can help you find determination to stay on task.
- Practice sitting still
- Meditate - just focus on your breathing for even five minutes. Blocking out unwanted thoughts is difficult, but with practice over time you can focus simply on the art of breathing (5).
In conclusion, focus is a muscle that can be worked and improved over time. It isn’t easy, otherwise, we would all be sharp as a tack. With the right combination of self-discipline and these tips, hopefully next time you can walk right past the squirrels of your life without losing concentration completely. And if you’ve managed to finish this blog without checking your phone or browsing cute animal videos on YouTube, congratulations!