Maybe it slipped your attention, yet alongside the current health pandemic, the world has been facing another serious crisis for the past two decades; an attention crisis.
If you are like most people, you will find it challenging to sustain your attention long enough to finish this sentence without being distracted, let alone the entire article. In fact, the average adult has only a 10 second attention span, just long enough to finish this paragraph (Microsoft Report, 2015). Furthermore, research from Harvard University suggests that most adults spend nearly half of their waking life unintentionally mind wandering (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010).
This is a problem.
We assure you that this article will prove to be one of the most valuable pieces of content you will read today. Lack of attention and concentration power is causing serious challenges in many people’s lives, and something must be done.
So, whether you are the average modern-day human with a short attention span or not, we urge you to keep reading.
Does this sound familiar to you?
You sit at your desk to complete a task that you’ve started numerous times already this year; goal and action setting for the following year. This time you are serious however, you are determined to finish the job. You affirm this internally as you open your laptop.
Three minutes later your attention has drifted to your email. The ding of incoming mail has distracted you and suddenly you are three emails deep in replies.
Fifteen minutes pass before you realize that you were supposed to be working on something else. ‘Ah, where was I…that’s right I was working on my goals’.
You close your mailbox and direct your attention back to the initial task, only to find out that you have lost your stream of profound insights you had earlier.
‘What is wrong with me?’, you ask yourself. But you already know the answer; your ability to control and sustain your attention is poor.
Why Attention Matters
There is a lot of scientific evidence proving what anyone with poor attention already knows; lack of attention control implies serious challenges. Independent of what your unique performance, health, or life goals look like, if your attention is lacking, you perform ineffectively and inefficiently.
Poor attention causes you to forget important details, waste valuable time, have shallow relationships, and frequently make impulsive decisions that are out of alignment with your goals and underlying core values. The challenges that arise from a poor attention span make life more complicated than it needs to be, and they make you feel more frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed than you need, or deserve, to feel. In other words; a distracted mind quickly becomes an unpleasant mind.
The Science of Attention
The concept of attention has gained much popularity in the mainstream world over the past decade. While this is a positive trend, the field is broad and covers many different ideas. The consequence of this popularity is that words like attention, focus, concentration, awareness, meditation, and mindfulness are being used as if they are synonymous. Not only is this confusing, but it is also incorrect.
Elaborating on each unique attentional structure of the brain and related term is beyond the scope of this article, although we urge you to use this writing as an incentive to learn more. While we cannot define all related concepts around attention, it is important to define the most important terms before going any further.
Attention is a term used to describe how your brain allocates cognitive processing resources to stimuli in your environment, internal or external. Attention span refers to the length of time that you are able to maintain focus on a particular object in your environment.
There are several types of attention. Two commonly described and important to understand types are selectiveand sustained. Sustained attention is your ability to hold your focus or concentration on a chosen object for a length of time, for instance writing a report for work. Selective attention is your ability to focus or concentrate on a specific object in your environment while other attention-grabbing events are cooccurring, for instance reading a book on the subway in New York City during rush hour (Altered Traits, 2017).
Where it all goes wrong
For many people, selective and sustained attention begin a rapid decline after age 25. And for young people, think generations Z and Alpha, challenges may begin even sooner. As your body ages, wear and tear on the brain’s attention systems start to accumulate and negatively affect the brain’s capacity to direct and sustain attention. This is the bad news.
Declining attention control has been shown to be correlated to poor lifestyle choices. These include choices like overconsumption of alcohol, excessive omega-6 rich foods, refined sugar and gluten, insufficient and poor-quality sleep, lack of physical movement, insufficient sunlight exposure, medication side effects and chronic stress (Caracciolo et al., 2013).
In the first 25 years of human life, the body-mind is naturally more resilient to life’s stressors. As we age however, these poor early lifestyle choices, in combination with lack of early initiated ‘attention muscle’ conditioning, start to impact attention and concentration in a highly detrimental manner.
To drive the point home; if your attention is scattered and your ability to concentrate is poor, it is within your power to resolve this by start to systematically adopt new lifestyle behaviors. Read that again.
But wait, there’s more
Besides lifestyle, there are two other reasons that might be scattering your attention: internal and external determinants.
Internal determinants or triggers refer to uncomfortable and unresolved feelings, both emotional and physical. We all have them, unresolved feelings from past experiences and/or physical aches and pains from past traumas or injuries. These unresolved feelings take up precious internal cognitive resources that cloud your mind and steal your attention power.
External determinants or triggers are environmental factors that create some sort of chaos in your mind or demand your attention in immediate and often disruptive ways. Think of incoming voice messages, emails and social media notifications, chaotic workspaces, loud colleagues and challenges with family and friends. These types of external triggers are also scattering and shortening your attention span.
There is a light
While the picture may sound bleak, we hope the underlying message is a clear and empowering one. If you are willing to admit that your attention is poor, you can take (non) actions to improve it. You can transform your story and create a new reality for yourself.
Even if your attention span is not problematic and reasonable at this moment, you can upgrade it to superhuman abilities known to just a very few people.
Through the Mindful Island System for Ultimate Wellness and Performance, we have developed a wide range of (scientifically supported) progressive practices and strategies that will meet you in your process. These practices systematically allow you to move towards your highest potential; in (sport) performance, health, business, relationships and beyond.
Over the course of future articles, we will elaborate on some of the powerful strategies and practices from our sophisticated system which will help to transform your life. We believe strongly that attention is the most valuable asset you can invest in, and we are here to help you achieve your ultimate potential. Follow along and join in the conversation.
Until next time,
Niko and Sarah Sati
1. Microsoft Attention Spans Report, 2015. http://dl.motamem.org/microsoft-attention-spans-research-report.pdf
2. Killingsworth A & Gilbert D.T, 2010. A Wandering Mind is An Unhappy Mind, Science. Vol. 330, Issue 6006, pp. 932. DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439
3. Goleman D. & Davidson. J., 2017. Altered Traits. Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. Chapter 7.
4. Caracciolo B, Xu W, Collins S & Fragticlioni L, 2013. Cognitive decline, dietary factors and gut-brain interactions. Mech Ageing Dev. 2014 Mar-Apr; 136-137:59-69. Epub 2013 Dec 12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mad.2013.11.011