3 Ways to Improve Your Attention Span in Today's World
Welcome to Self-Mastery — a place for exploring timeless ideas to become the architect of your mind, create yourself, and do less, better.
Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.
— Zig Ziglar
There are a million different things designed to hijack our attention each day. Practically everywhere you look, you’ll find something that lusts to take the precious time you have out of your hands. Social media. Email. Needless browsing. Group messages or random notifications. The list doesn’t seem to end.
What you focus on tends to be the guide in how you live your life. And so if all you look at is demotivating, uninspiring or negative, that will become the way you feel each day.
Your attention is your most valuable asset. This is the one thing you can control that has the power to make the biggest differences in your life. It’s the glistening diamond and the key to better quality thinking, moving and living. Where your attention goes, your emotions closely follow. And it should be your top priority to improve. It’s called ‘paying’ attention for a reason, but if ten seconds of attention started to cost you $100, I’m sure you’d be very selective with your focus.
What we put our attention into can either transcend our happiness, intelligence, confidence and so on, to another level. Or it can sink it. Improving your attention span is a game of adopting tiny, easy-to-do habits that teach you to spend more time focused on you. It might seem hard and tedious to work on in the beginning, but it gets easier over time. And it’s stunningly more rewarding as time progresses.
Here are three practices to help increase it:
Turn off social media notifications
It’s kind of weird to me to say I learnt this, but I did. Before I switched to iPhone recently, I used a Samsung for 8 years. And there used to be this tiny dot on the phones that would flash a certain colour based on the notification. It was cool and pretty, but distracting as hell. Reacting to my phone lighting up so often was a terrible habit—made worse by the fact I’d then go from that notification to the social media and completely veer away from what I was doing.
To fix this, I switched off all notifications except for calls and texts. The difference was swift and has been great for months now. I found myself caring less about social media and caring more about reading, writing and working out.
It only takes a few “hero” habits for us to be happy with our day, and social media can make us feel toxic, negative and deflated. So let’s ask ourselves, why waste time giving our attention to the lives of others when we can really enjoy dedicating more of our day to ourselves?
Meditate for a few minutes
This is strangely easy and difficult at the same time. Meditation is about learning not to think of nothing, but to let your dozens of thoughts pass as you repeatedly bring your attention back to your breathing. This alone has the power to increase your attention span over time.
“Focus is about the ability to attend at will. And to do so in the presence of distractors”, says Neuroscientist Andrew Hill, PhD. Increasing your attention span is about control. And meditation is the right way to improve that as it helps you focus on one thing at a time.
You can build a habit by starting to meditate for 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10, until you reach 15 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be too long. The point is to learn to let distractions pass. It’ll help you during meditation and in everyday life. Feeling fidgety and restless at first is completely normal. Because eventually, your restlessness will dissipate.
Read more often
Believe it or not, I used to despise reading. This only changed about a year and a half ago.
There’s a quote saying something like ‘it’s not that you don’t like reading, you just haven't found the right book yet’ and it couldn’t have hit me harder. Reading is an easy way to boost your attention span as you simply have to focus on the story being told to you. I stopped reading for years, but since starting again (with the right books) I’ve found myself enjoying being alone to do read or do self-reflection or create fun stories in my head. Now that I’m writing more than I ever have, I feel this is even more important.
Bonus: I’d also recommend going on walks without your phone. Or, at least with it switched off in your pocket. I use time like this to practise non-judgmental awareness, where you refrain from automatically cataloguing experiences with people, places or things. I think everyone should practise this. It reminds you to stop adding good or bad labels on things that generate bias, division and close-mindedness. Not everything needs a positive or negative label; it can be left alone and ignored. Whether that’s an opinion, a person you see or an event, use the walks to bring yourself back to listening, feeling, breathing, as you walk.
All of these habits should be done in small steps. Don’t rush them, but let them help you remember how important it is to realise what we’re giving our time and energy to.
Use your time to take your control back, before other people or things take too much control over you.
What’s on My Mind
Failure is a feature, not a bug. It’s a fee, not a fine.
The more we give ourselves room for failure, the more we can accept failure as a natural cost of success, and the better we can innovate in our lives and create something better for our lives.
Leaving no room for failure allocates our attention to monitoring our life, instead of improving it.
“According to research, you need two main ingredients to build intrinsic motivation: the first is self-determination (believing that you have the choice and the freedom to act however you want to), and the second is a feeling of increased competence (believing that the task will teach you something new and make you a better, more performant person overall).”
— Building intrinsic motivation
“Few people have good abdominal recruitment. Even fewer have a concept of what good coordination even looks like. And assuming one has an idea of what good coordination looks like, it’s very unlikely they’ll have the strength or endurance to maintain that crucial position for an extended period of time.”
— The 5-minute Breathe/brace Exercise You Should Do Every Morning
A negative mindset may be realistic, but in the end, the person it hurts the most is you.
The best thing you can do is take responsibility for your life.
You can complain that odds are against you. You may be correct! But, dwelling on how you think the world *should* be, doesn't get you closer to your goals. Don't wait for someone else to level the playing field.
— Steph Smith
Favourite Thing This Week
This is like a modern story of why you should break the conventional mould and execute your dreams.
David Perell got a cold email from an old college acquaintance who was speechless at the fact he found the same David from school had become hugely successful with his dreams. He mentions how many people they knew mocked David and had no respect for what David was working on. And now, he’s doing better than anybody predicted, while the people who mock him are still doing nothing.
Question of The Week
How happy do you feel when you see your friends do well?
PS: If you had tapped the heart button for last weeks edition, thank you! There were more than I expected, and there were even more people who opened/read that one than usual. I appreciate you all.
PPS: At the time of writing, it’s the day after my birthday. I took some time for self-reflection and a long walk and I realised just how lucky I am to be in a place where I am in good health, writing to you all, slowly turning what I love doing into something I could do full-time. And though there’s still a way to go, I appreciate how far I’ve come, who I’ve become and everyone who’s joined me on the way.
We will speak again next week!