The longer we spend on earth, the shorter our memory seems to get – but is the same true for our attention span? Most professionals typically agree that our attention span, or the amount of time we can spend concentrating on a task without becoming distracted, is crucial for the achievement of our goals. In fact, our attention span may increase our mental elasticity, improve cognitive function, and ensure that we remain on track toward achieving our daily and lifestyle tasks.
However, while we often attribute a decrease in attention to age, it is important to realise that external stimulation plays a huge part too. In 2013, the average focused attention span of an adult was 8 seconds – a full 4 seconds less than the 12 second average of 2000…and one second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. Great! So, what can we do to ensure that we remain more focused? What is it that helps build retention and ensures that our brains can be fit and able and ready to remain on task. It just so happens that the things we can do to help improve our attention span could also increase memory retention too.
Start with getting some exercise. Physical activity has been known to improve attention and focus. Exercise also sees the body release chemicals that affect learning and memory, boosting mental and cognitive performance and enabling the brain to focus better. You can do walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, yoga…etc. You don’t have to do the same thing every day, just do something. Your body and your brain will be better for it!
Along with exercise comes fluid. Dehydration can lead to inattention, so it’s important to keep our bodies hydrated. Aim to drink at least around 2 litres of water each day. This liquid of life sees our body and mind functioning correctly and improves the manner by which we hold our attention.
Being active and hydrated are ways to address the body, but next, we need to address our minds. To improve your attention span, take a moment of pause and think. Consider the things that are causing you worry and stress, and look at the aspects of your life that are causing a distraction. Today’s society is so connected, that with apps and phones and laptops, tablets, and every manner of interactive technology, we’re constantly bombarded from all directions. This connection saturation is a massive cause of lack of focus. Really consider what you need and what you want in your day-to-day life, and what you need for each task. The rest doesn’t have to be present. Not only will this free up your attention, but it will also reduce stress and ensure that you’re able to focus on the things that matter to you.
Bring tasks down into smaller bits. This breakdown allows you to focus on your tasks and allows even small chunks of attention to build into the achievement of a much bigger objective. For example, making dinner may take 5 steps: 1) going to the store, 2) buying everything on the list, 3) getting home and unpacking, 4) following the recipe, and 5) serving dinner. Think of these breakdowns as road markers on your journey forward.
Keep it simple, keep it streamlined, and your mind will follow. You don’t have to take big steps. Set smaller goals to achieve a bigger picture, and stay focused throughout.
Finally, focus on your sustained attention. This is the level of attention that produces consistent results over time. Most people cannot sustain their attention for longer than 40 minutes at a time, but the key is to be able to acknowledge when you’re losing focus and take steps to get back on track. Refocusing is a key to sustaining focus. Don’t let age fool you into thinking you can’t keep focused on a task. Our age is not the issue, but our direction is. We should build our attention and retention one step at a time, and with streamlined direction. Step by step, both physically and mentally, we can improve our attention rates and increase our mental elasticity.
We’re not goldfish. Remember that.