What the irony.
Trying to write a blog post about short attention spans — to people with short attention spans.
Let me guess.
You are getting fidgety already and want to do something else. You crave for more stimulation, more excitement.
This can be because of my copywriting skills — or lack thereof — or it could be a problem with your short attention span.
Well, let me tell you what your short attention span is capable of doing to you:
- Destroy your future
- Kill your productivity
- Damage your relationships
Ah, such bold claims, yeah?
Well, let me tell you — because I don’t go for click baits — that these accusations are true and valid, and I can prove them to you.
First, let me ask you a question.
Do you like watching films in the movies or at home?
If you have a short attention span, there’s a good chance that while you like being in the movies, you’d rather watch films at home because then you can easily check up your phone at the same time.
I mean what is the length of today’s average films? Seems like it’s well over two hours.
Over two hours without checking up social media? Gulp.
Even in the movies, there are people who must check their phone during the film. They try to dim their screen and cover it with their hand to keep themselves unnoticed.
What the hell has happened to our attention spans?
Well, first you have to recognize that everything we do, everything we alter ourselves to, is shaping us in some form.
If it shapes your brain, we call it by the name neuroplasticity.
Now there’re people who absolutely hate the word neuroplasticity. They think that it’s overstated and used to decipher anything that happens in the brain.
And often it is.
Yet, I think you can’t go overboard with neuroplasticity because most people don’t acknowledge the risks and benefits of how everything we do, mold our brain, for the better or worse.
Brain scans on heavy media multitaskers point that they have a lower grey-matter density in one part of the brain, compared to non-multitaskers.
Well, how fast does this programming of the brain occur then?
Dr. Gary Small, the author of the book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, lead a research where he exposed a group of computer naïve volunteers (people who haven’t used a computer) to the internet and told them to do Google searches. Later, his team would do an fMRI scan to the volunteers to determine any changes in the brain.
Turned out that just five hours on the internet is enough to measurably change the brain structure.
So not only we change our brain when we expose ourselves to new stimulation, but we do it faster than we thought.
How does a short attention span destroy your future?
Destroy your future?
Well, this can only happen if you think you’ll have a future.
If you have goals, you vision yourself accomplishing great things, exploring life and truly enjoying the short presence you have on this planet — then there’s a future for you to ruin.
If you just like to coast along — then I guess this doesn’t concern you. (There are a lot of people like this, so that’s why I’m making the distinction.)
Should you picture yourself as somebody who proactively accomplishes his/her goals, then your ability to sustain your focus is playing a major role on how well you can actually accomplish those goals.
Constant hopping from one source of stimulation to another may lead you to believe you’ve done a lot but actually produced almost nothing during the day.
Producing and learning anything takes deep focus, which means you sustain your attention for ”long” (well, longer than reading a twitter post) time, without multitasking.
The same goes with learning.
It always requires you to grind, grind, grind. If you’re learning to program, for example, you have to grind through a lot of boring tasks for you to become a better programmer.
You can’t just start programming games, you have to program the goddamn calculator first.
And who likes to program calculators?
Let’s take another example, you wish to play the guitar like Mark Knopfler.
You could most certainly learn how to do — or close to it — but it requires a lot of grinding.
The truth is that when you’ve played the F chord wrong for the 100th time, and went berzerk screaming: ”Stupid fingers! stupid fingers!” it’s natural to switch your attention to something more comfortable.
So if you wish to become good at something, and not be mediocre at it, you must be able to sustain your attention at will for a long period of time.
This doesn’t mean you must hold your unshifting attention for hours without a break. Sure, use Pomodoro technique, or any other time management technique and chunk your work into pieces. Just don’t start multitasking at the middle of your deep focus time period.
Allocate your time, and stick with it.
There are many people who have big dreams, totally achievable, but because of their attention span is so short, and the information they gather is too much and too unnecessary — they end up being fidgety, achieving nothing, unable to reach their dreams and effectively killing the future that they wanted for themselves.
How does short attention span kill your productivity?
When you’re trying to multitask, or you switch tasks all the time — you accomplish much less than if you would’ve just set yourself a fixed time for work, and fixed time for pleasantries.
This has been proven times and times again, so there’s no question about it.
However, we delude ourselves by multitasking because we think that we can accomplish more that way. Even if somebody tells you not to multitask, you do it anyway.
That’s because you’ve trained yourself to unconsciously trying to produce more with multitasking.
You have to consciously reverse this habit.
Sometimes this requires a bit of an aggressive systematizing from your part. If you have trouble with this, you have to:
- Hide your phone.
- Log your time consumption. Pen & Paper, or Rescuetime.
- Limit your internet. (Limit the pages, or limit the whole connection.)
- Set yourself fixed times when you look your email.
- Use a time managing system, like Pomodoro.
For more information, check out my post on how to remove distractions.
How does short attention span kill your relationships?
Well, this isn’t so hard to picture out, right?
Go to a diner, or a fine restaurant even, and look at the couples there. I betcha you don’t see many hands holding anymore. The only thing the couple is holding in their hands is their phones when they’re waiting for their food.
I suspect many of you readers are doing this too.
Why don’t you go old fashioned and — “wait, how did this come to this?” — talk to your spouse when waiting for the food?
Even when you think you don’t have anything specific to discuss, asking about the day of your significant other often spikes up a constructive dialogue about the hopes, fears and deeper emotions of his/her day.
And since communication is the root of a meaningful relationship, neglecting that one is sure way to ruin your relationship.
So when you’re having a meal with somebody, put the friggin phone down, and turn it silent, so you don’t even get reminders of messages and tweets and whatnots.
Ideally, if you go out to have dinner, leave the phone at home.
What happens when you’re using your phone, and somebody comes and talks to you?
I can tell you what usually happens. You’re talking and browsing your phone at the same time. This results in an unfocused conversation that you don’t remember much of later.
Unless you want to avoid the person, put your phone in your pocket and concentrate on the communication. Prioritize human interaction over your phone.
I’m telling you, put the phone all the way into your pockets during the conversation.
When you apply deep focus in a human interaction, I promise you that you begin to see little nuances that you can’t pick up if you’re multitasking.
So whatcha gonna do?
Wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.Herbert Simon
Just like Herbert Simon said back in 1977, the wealth of information has created a poverty of attention. But getting all the information you can possibly gather is a good thing right?
You don’t need all the information you can get, and hogging up everything of everything is only going to distract you even more.
This also concerns of media that you thought was crucial to follow, like news multiple times a day.
Actually, you can go on just fine if you don’t read the news at all.
Try it out. Go for a week of news fast and see if you miss out anything important. And since news consists primarily of bad news — feeding the emotional center of our brain — you won’t get a realistic view of the world anyway.
So instead of widening your inlet of information, you must restrict it, and center it on receiving information that you really find necessary for your personal and professional life.
I guess some people are getting sick of this mindfulness buzz already. However, those are the people that don’t know the power of it.
The adversity of bad habits is that we do them unconsciously. The moment your brain feels like it has nothing to do, you pick up the phone. When we’re working on the computer, we start the tab rally. Just count out the tabs you have open right now.
With mindfulness, we can gain some control of our unconscious.
With mindfulness you develop a third person view of yourself — in this case, expanding your attention to meta-attention; attention on attention itself.
Try to be ever vigilant in how you act and what you do. After all, we can’t change what we’re not aware of.
Don’t give into short attention spans. We must recognize the unmatched value of a long, laser-like focus on a single task, and stop idolizing the multitasking world, and not give into the temptation of distractions.
Do you have problems with short attention span?
Do you see yourself as a person who is able to concentrate on long periods of time without any problems?
Have you noticed the effect of social media consumption on your ability to concentrate?
Tell me about your experiences in the comments section.