Nowadays there are so many distractions, disturbances that we always get distracted. As an example, the light produced by our mobile phone has taken away numerous sleeping hours from us. Society is now shaped in such a way that we have to spend an endless amount of time looking at phones and computers. This attacks slowly but surely your attention span and our capacity to be focused. Our brain is a muscle that evolves slower than our environment. Everything has changed, we don’t read books but we watch Netflix and Youtube, we don’t play outside we play video games etc….Our brain, the centre of our attention capacity is having some difficulties adapting to so many changes and therefore we lose our capacity to concentrate.
How can you take the upper hand on your attention span?
That’s a very good question, this article is meant to provide you with some answers and techniques that can be applied directly after reading it. First, we will see how our attention span works, then what affects our attention span and finally, how we can work on our attention span in order to increase it?
1. How our attention span works
Our brain possesses a capacity to be focused for a certain period. It can mobilize his resources on any given subject e.g. listening to music, doing your homework or sports, working, playing video games and even scrolling on Instagram…. Everything we do with care and attention is demanding for our brain. Simple example can be seen in your everyday life:
- how can you be a good teammate if you are not able to be focused on your mission during an important tennis game, imagine missing an important serve or,
- when you are having a conversation with friends and don’t pay enough attention so you don’t understand the message he/she is really trying to convey.
How long can we be stay focused? On average, our brain is able to be focused almost 90 min ; it’s just enough time for a soccer match by the way. Beyond this, the brain gets tired, slowly its focus decreases and a feeling of boredom will be felt. Most of the time it appears already after 75 min of attention. To simplify, we can be focused only 75 min without weakening. However, some tasks will be very demanding while others will be performed with ease. The harder the task, the faster we will get tired, for very difficult work, we will see our attention span decrease only after 30 minutes. For all of us, our attention is a pretty scarce resource, a raw material that we need to train, to develop to force the best out of us.
Nowadays our attention span is endangered because modern society came up with the brain’s worst enemy, mobile phones or more generally monitors.
2. Then, what can affect our attention span.
Nowadays, there are so many tools that can distract us from work; the main ones area computers and mobile phones. We take our phones and laptops anywhere we go it’s like an extension of our hands. Screens and more generally mobile phones are disturbing our attention span in two different ways
I. The blue bight from our screens
Our screens are broadcasting/issuing a special light called blue light. This light is a problem as it is greatly disturbing our photoreceptors. Photoreceptors are cells present in our eyes and they have a simple mission. They convert the light present in our environment into signals that can stimulate are launch biological processes such as hunger, tiredness… An example, when the sun goes down, photoreceptors will make us feel tired, as it sees that the amount of light in our environment has diminished and that it’s time for us to sleep.
Blue light broadcasted by screens is misinterpreted by our photoreceptors and when we use our phones before going to bed, our brain will think that it is still broad daylight and we won’t be able to feel tired. The lack of sleep is a terrible side effect of looking too often at screens at night. As anyone can imagine, sleep deprivation is immensely striking our attention span because our brain is never able to regenerate sufficiently during the night.
II. The way we use of our smartphones (phones)
The way we use our technological tools is a serious problem as well. Social medias such as Instagram, Facebook or twitter are terrible for our attention. When we post on Instagram for example, we will receive some likes and comments -this is of course only if you have friends J. This process generates dopamine which can be considered the brain’s drug. It makes us feel good, happy and eager to constantly check our phone to see each notification or to react to every comment.
Every time we check our phone, we take from 40 to 90 seconds to refocus on the work we were doing. Social media being available anywhere and at any moment this is a serious blow to our attention span. In addition, most countries are currently in lockdown so the only way to chat, to see your friends is through your social media. If you try to recall the last time you studied for a test or worked on a project for your company, I am sure you
a. checked your phone,
b. forgot what you have checked your phone for,
c. laid your phone down on the table,
d. repeated this every 2 min.
Often, we look at our phone just to run away from boring activities but it’s such a big blow to your attention span. Then if you recall the fact that looking at your likes and comments generates dopamine you understand that there is a chain reaction here. Our brain receives dopamine from these actions, so it wants to repeat it again and again. This is just how we all became addicted to our mobile phones and to social medias.
Is there a way to control and/or to increase our attention span ?
3. How to increase and/or control our attention span?
There is a way but it is not magic and it takes time and engagement. On average, our brain needs 8 days to reset and calm down from the stress created by too much screen exposition.
Today, is it possible to do 8 days without phones, laptops is it possible to spend 8 days without looking at any screens ? For most of us – including me, the answer is clearly no.
So how can we do this, how can we increase our attentions span? It’s a question of balance. We must regulate the inner stress created by our own behaviour. This requires us to step by step change and balance the way we spend our time.
See below 4 techniques that can be used to increase your attention span.
I- Read a book, rather than spending too much time on your phone, take a book. The brain finds reading very challenging, it’s a perfect way to train your attention span. There is a need to change the relationship we have with our phones. It can’t be your best friend; it has to be a tool. Check the number of hours spent on your phone and try to reduce it bit by bit. You can start this by reading a book.
II- Do some brain exercises, play some games that require a huge amount of attention. A good example would be to try the games available for free on HumanBenchmark.com. The brain is a muscle that must be trained to perform to full capacity,
III- Do some sports, it’s another way to increase your attention span. It forces you to stay focused for a long time which is exactly what the brain needs,
IV- Stay full focus when having long conversations, sometimes long conversations can be boring I understand. You may lose patience but by trying to memorize and by paying close attention to what the person in front of you is saying, you may see your attention span increase naturally,
In conclusion, you must change the way your brain sees the drug reward, the dopamine. Now, it’s coming from likes and comments on Instagram, notifications from social medias and watching series late at night. This is greatly reducing your attention span and creating sleep deprivation. Try to implement short moments where you can focus on yourself not on something else. The attention span is a resource which we have control on, it can be greatly increased by sheer and simple motivation.
If you want to know more about this, please comment or ask me any question you may have.
Thanks for reading my first article.