5 ways to boost your attention span

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A 2008 paper described a significant improvement in their working memory performance after the nature walk, but not after the urban walk. Similar beneficial effects of nature exposure have been shown to occur in children with ADHD and young adults with depression, and amazingly even in response to just viewing nature pictures.

Ever get to the end of a day and think, “I don’t want to make any more decisions”? Treat yourself to a Google Image search for “nature.” Yes, it’s that simple.

You’ve strengthened your attention with exercise and meditation. You’ve given your cognitive control a recharge with nature. What’s another angle for boosting focus?

5. Reduce interference

You can improve your ability to focus by changing your brain or changing your behavior. And it’s best if you do both. We talked about changing your brain. And the best way to change your behavior is to make sure that anything which might distract you is far away.

Simply put, make your environment as boring as possible when trying to focus. Research shows even having a phone in the room can be distracting.

From The Distracted Mind:

A recent study by Professor Bill Thornton and his colleagues at the University of Southern Maine demonstrated that when performing complex tasks that require our full attention even the mere presence of the experimenter’s phone (not the participant’s phone) led to distraction and worse performance. In the same study, the presence of a student’s silenced phone in a classroom had an equally negative impact on attention.

If at all possible, “batch” all email checking, texting, and social media into three pre-designated times. Then turn off all notifications.

From The Distracted Mind:

Results indicated that when participants — a mixture of college students and community adults — checked only three times a day they reported less stress, which predicted better overall well-being on a range of psychological and physical dimensions.

And taking breaks is not only okay, but beneficial. Try gradually extending the amount of time between breaks to further build those attention muscles, Hercules.

Okay, we’ve learned a lot. Let’s round it all up and learn how to pay more attention when it matters most — in your relationships.

Sum up

This is how to increase your attention span:

  • Stop multitasking: You wouldn’t try to lift 5,000 pounds. Your body can’t do that. Don’t try to do your best work while checking email, texting, and posting to Instagram. Your brain can’t do that.
  • Exercise: You know it’s good for your body. Guess what? Your brain’s part of your body. (Shocking, I know.)
  • Meditate: Simply put, meditation is attention training.
  • Call your mother nature: Looking at a picture of a tree is like a deep tissue massage for your brain.
  • Reduce interference: Remove anything from your environment that might distract you. Batch email and social media. Extend the time between breaks to build your attention muscles.

Having your phone out doesn’t just distract you from work — it also reduces empathy and harms your relationships.

From The Distracted Mind:

The mere presence of any phone reduces closeness, connection, and conversation quality as well as reducing the extent to which individuals feel empathy and understanding from their partners, all of which negatively affects our relationships with others.

So what can we do to improve the amount of attention we pay to those we care about — and how much attention they give us in return? Try a game of “cellphone stack.”

At the beginning of your next meal out with friends, everyone stacks their phones at the end of the table. If someone grabs their device before the check arrives, they pay the entire bill. You’ll be much more focused on your friends — or it’ll be the most expensive text message you’ve ever sent.

So stop multitasking, start exercising and meditating, get out in nature and reduce distractions. It’ll boost your attention span, sharpen your work, and reduce stress. And I guarantee it’ll improve your relationships. Your friends will love all the attention you’re showing them … or they’ll love that you keep buying them dinner.

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