By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Things you can do to improve your attention span besides taking medication.
This digital age has resulted in a radical reduction in attention spans. Adults average just 4 seconds of time on a website. T. V. shows are chopped up into small segments punctuated with lots of adrenaline, producing sex and violence.
Adult learners get shorter presentations and more breaks. It is as if the whole world now has developed ADHD. Here are some ways you can work on improving your attention span beyond the norm that does not require you to take medication.
1. Eat a good breakfast.
Low blood sugar or lack of energy can significantly impact your ability to pay attention. Children who eat a breakfast at home before school do much better in their classes before lunch than those students who have skipped breakfast.
It is hard to make your mind go when you are out of fuel.
2. Drink plenty of water.
Dehydration can have a significant impact on learning. Drink more water and you will feel better. Blood feeds the brain and blood is composed largely of water.
Ever tried to think with a hangover? One of the reasons hangovers are so debilitating is that you are dehydrated.
Even a few minutes of vigorous walking can improve your ability to pay attention and learn. Exercise gets the heart pumping and speeds the flow of blood to the brain. In one study of the effects of walking on classroom performance, a short walk was shown to increase memory and retention of the material that was taught after the walk. Those who walked did not think they were doing better, they even felt tired after the walk, but their test scores showed an improvement.
A few minutes of running at recess has been reported to reduce behavior problems and improve attention. Staying inside to “catch up” on missed work and try to improve standardized test scores can produce the exact opposite effect.
4. Prioritize – you can’t focus on it all.
The myth of multi-tasking has turned out to be just that, a myth. You can’t text, talk, listen to music and be at your best while driving. We have had to set limits on technology use while driving and we are having the same problem in the classroom and the work site.
If you want to pay attention and learn something, clear your mind of thoughts of other things while working on the new material.
5. Clear out the worries.
Ruminating on problems uses up a lot of brain capacity. If you have a sick family member or had a conflict at home last night then divided attention is understandable.
Work on solving those problems or on shifting your focus and leave the problems for later to later if you want to do well now.
6. Manage distractions.
Turn off the phone. Close the internet connection (temporarily, you can read my blog later) Do not try to pay attention to one thing while monitoring others.
7. Mass attention – Work on one project for a while then switch. Take small breaks at frequent intervals.
In classrooms we give brakes. If you need to eat or use the restroom then you won’t have the maximum attention. If you have several subjects to study, work on one for a while, take a break and then change to another.
Writers are encouraged to work on one project for a while, take a break and then return for another “massed effort.” String together enough of those bursts of focus and the post or book gets done. Sitting staring at the blank page leaves a lot of blank pages in memory.
8. Break tasks up into small steps.
You can’t eat an elephant in one bite. Most worthwhile projects cannot be done in one sitting or standing. Structure your project so you can do one step at a time and over a period of time, you will get it done. Trying to work on all the aspects of a project at once is a recipe for disaster.
If you must work on several steps in a project at once try to chunk the efforts so that you get something done on one part before switching to the next.
9. More than 3 steps – write out lists.
I picked the number three because it works for me. You might need another number. If I go to the grocery store for three items, I can remember that. But if someone asks me to pick up a fourth item, I am at risk of forgetting one of the original three.
If I get distracted at the store because I think of a fifth item to look for it may be all over.
I find that once I exceed a small number of items, to shop for or to do, I need a list so that as one item is done I can move to the next. Trying to remember all of the items or steps in a project risks leaving out a really important one.
Want better attention and concentration make lists.
10. Recognize when you are off focus and then refocus.
Sorry but not very many of us can stay focused on a task for a long period of time. Suddenly for no apparent reason, the mind wanders off to another thing you need or want to do.
Do not obsess when this happens. Gently take your mind back to the task at hand. The more you practice redirecting your mind the more automatic it becomes.
Those are some of my tips for improving my ability to pay attention and stay focused. Do you have any techniques you would care to share?
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.