In this series on mastering your attention, we have emphasized the fact that attention is not just the ability to focus on a single task without being distracted, but in fact is comprised of several different elements that must be effectively managed.
But this doesn’t mean that single-minded focus is not of paramount importance. Yesterday we compared managing your different kinds of attention to being the supreme commander of your mind – you must be able to deftly maneuver and deploy your units to various battles. But good management can only get you so far; to win the war on distraction, the absolute strength of your voluntary attention — your focus foot soldiers – greatly matters.
Research has shown that individuals who can sustain their attention for long periods of time perform better on all sorts of cognitive challenges than those who cannot. A man with a scatter-shot attention span will only be able to experience one plane of existence; he can skim across the surface of the world’s vast knowledge and wisdom, but is unable to dive deeper and discover the treasures below. The man with an iron-clad focus can do both; he is the boat captain and the pearl diver and the world is truly his oyster.
Pomodoro Technique Ill... Best Price: $5.54 Buy New $1.99 (as of 08:00 EST - Details) If you have a goal to learn and understand as much about the world as you possibly can before you die, strengthening your power of concentration is not an option, it’s a necessity.
Think of Your Mind as a Muscle
Last time we used the analogy of being supreme commander of your mind to explain attention management; when it comes to attention strengthening, we’d encourage you to think of your mind as a muscle. The parallels between strengthening your body and strengthening your mind are in fact so close that it’s really not so much an analogy as a description of reality.
Your physical muscles and your attention “muscles” both have a limited amount of strength at any given time, their stamina and power can either atrophy from inactivity or strengthen from vigorous, purposeful exercise, and they require rest and recovery after they’ve been intensely exerted. HomeFlav Adorables Kit... Best Price: null Buy New $9.44 (as of 11:38 EST - Details)
You get the same feeling of internal dread/doubt right before you begin an intense workout – the one that says “I’m not sure I want to do this” – as you do right before you decide whether or not you’re going to read a long article, and in both cases you have to set your mind, bite down, and get going with it.
Just as you can hit a wall in a tough workout where you think you can’t do one more rep, in the middle of reading a long article your mind will want to quit and surf to another tab. In both cases, if you tell yourself to dig deeper, you’ll be surprised how much more strength and focus you actually have left in the tank.
A Mind for Numbers: Ho... Best Price: $5.61 Buy New $10.49 (as of 10:37 EST - Details) And while everyone’s looking for cool new “secrets” for how to build both their body and mind – shortcuts and hacks heretofore undiscovered – the truth is that strengthening our physical and mental muscles comes down to plain, good old fashioned, highly unsexy work. Gaining strength in either area is ultimately about eating right, getting ample sleep, and engaging in challenging daily exercise.
So put on your lifting belt and chalk up your cranium. We’re going to hit the mental gym and turn your focus into a beast. Below, you’ll find your brain’s workout plan.
Your Concentration Training Program: 11 Exercises That Will Strengthen Your Attention
You’ll never get big muscles from sitting on the couch all day, and you’ll never develop amazing powers of concentration from exclusively reading Buzzfeed and watching Tosh.O. Your mind muscles, just like your physical muscles, need resistance; they need challenges that stretch their limits and in so doing, grow their focus fibers. Below we outline exercises that will beef up your focus so that you can start lifting heavier and heavier cognitive Secrets of Mental Math... Best Price: $2.13 Buy New $9.75 (as of 07:25 EST - Details) loads.
1. Increase the strength of your focus gradually. If you decide you want to physically get in shape, but are starting at ground zero, the worst thing you can do is to throw yourself into an extreme training program – you’ll end up injured, discouraged, or both, and you’ll quit before you even really get started.
Likewise, if your attention span is currently quite flabby, it’s best to slowly build up the weight you ask it to lift. In this series we’ve mentioned trying the “Pomodoro Method” in which you work for, say, 45 minutes straight and then allow yourself a 15-minute break. But for many of us, 45 minutes might as well be a mind marathon!
So start out with a pretty easy goal and work your way up from there. Set a timer for 5 minutes and focus completely on your work/reading for that time period. Then take a 2-minute break before going at it again for another Amazon.com Gift Card i... Check Amazon for Pricing. 5 minutes. Each day, add another 5 minutes to your focused work time, along with an additional 2 minutes to your break time. In 9 days, you should be able to work for 45 minutes straight before you allow yourself an 18-minute break. Once you get comfortable with that set-up, you can work to lengthen your focus sessions a little, while shortening your break times.
2. Create a distraction to-do list. Because the internet has made any bit of information instantly accessible, we tend to want to look something up the moment it crosses our mind. “I wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow?” “What year did that movie come out?” “I wonder what’s new in my Facebook feed?” Consequently, we’ll toggle away from what we’re working on the instant these questions or thoughts pop into our minds. Problem is, once we get distracted, it takes on average 25(!) minutes to return to our original task. Plus, shifting our attention back and forth drains its strength.
So to stay on task, whenever something you want to check out pops into your head, just write it down on a piece of paper next to you (or perhaps in Evernote for you tech types), and promise yourself you’ll be able to look it up once your focusing session is over and your break time has arrived.