Instant (Tech) Gratification & Brain Health: 6 Ways to Increase Your Attention Span by Dr. Haley Perlus
We are a society of shortened attention spans, thanks largely to technology, smartphones and social media. Want to know the weather in Hong Kong? Ask Siri. Want to watch something, choose from thousands of shows on streaming services. Need amusement, scroll through TikTok videos until you laugh. Don’t want to labor over a hot stove, click on UberEats and food will be at your door.
Even for those who do not have a diagnosis of ADHD, this quick, instant gratification decreases our attention spans through learned behaviors. What about when technology can’t do the work for us such as exercising, studying for a test or researching a work project?
Here are some vital tips to help retrain our “tech spoiled” brains:
1. Reduce Multitasking
Some of us wear multitasking like a badge of honor because it makes us feel more efficient. It does the opposite by reducing concentration, focus and lowering productivity. Keep your phone out of sight if you are at work and typing emails. Close social media or other applications on your desktop and distracting audio you might be listening to. By shutting off these external distractions, you will be able to concentrate better even though it might be challenging to do so.
2. Exercise Your Brain
Just like you exercise your body, you can exercise your “brain muscles” to increase your attention span. Scientific evidence shows that engaging in games that demand focus, such as Wordle, Sudoku or activities such as jigsaw puzzles, or memory games can enhance concentration. Even spending 15 minutes a day five days a week training your brain can impact. For those who love gaming, there is good news: A recent study showed that one hour of gaming can enhance attention for specific tasks and enable people to disengage from distractions.
3. Hydrate Your Body
If you are feeling “antsy” you could simply be thirsty. When you are mildly dehydrated your motor coordination can be affected, cognitive performance and executive function. These all have a specific bearing on attention span. It has been shown that hydration and food help more than any supplement. Drinking small amounts of water throughout the day is more beneficial than drinking a massive amount at once.
4. Keep Yourself Engaged in a Meeting at the Office/PTA/Place of Worship/Zoom Call
For those with short attention spans, meetings can be the bane of our existence, whether in person or on Zoom. One way to keep engaged and stay alert is to make comments and ask questions instead of quietly listening. This will keep your brain alert and reactive.
5. Listen to Music
Unfortunately, Jay Z, Lizzo and Drake won’t help your attention span, but classical music will. A Stanford University study found that short symphonies influence the brain areas that correlate with paying attention. What is key are the short periods of silence between musical movements (found in symphonies) that raise brain activities.
6. Take Notes the Old-fashioned Way (By Hand)
When we are in a meeting or a lecture, it’s not like a TikTok video where we can scroll to the next thing that interests us. To keep engaged, leave the laptop home and take notes by pen and notebook. Princeton University Research shows that they listened more effectively when students took notes by hand. In addition, a laptop is tempting because it provides the distractions of social media, email and the internet.
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