Do you ever find you just can’t absorb all the information you encounter during the day? In the fast pace of our modern lifestyles, it’s easy to struggle with your focus and find yourself forgetting what’s important. If you ever find yourself struggling to focus and remember everything you should, you are not alone. A recent study by the University of Denmark found that worldwide an overabundance of information has narrowed our collective attention span. So what exactly causes us to struggle to focus and what can we do to avoid this? In this blog, I’d like us to explore how to avoid distractions and improve our attention for when we really need it.
The modern focus challenge
Research conducted by Microsoft Canada recently found that humans may have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Our ability to focus allows us to make sense of the vast amount of information we are confronted with every day and form memories of what is important and relevant to us. However, when modern life confronts us with so much information it can become unmanageable to focus on what is important. Our digital age means we are constantly multitasking and juggling a range of social, personal and professional responsibilities that can become overwhelming. Minimising these distractions so you can focus on one important thing at a time is essential for increasing productivity and focus.
What affects our focus?
Life is full of distractions. Learning which ones we can avoid or minimise can help us maintain a good level of focus. Here are some of the most common factors that have a role in distracting us and shortening our attention span.
When we sleep our bodies spend the night repairing and restoring themselves. Without this period of rest, we struggle to function both physically and mentally. Sleepiness affects our brains in a few ways. When we are sleepy our thought processes are slowed and our reaction times decrease. Excessive sleepiness can also impair memory. When we sleep our brain consolidates all the information we have absorbed over the day and stores it as memories. This in turn affects our ability to be able to learn and focus. Ensuring that we get enough sleep, stops our mind from suffering the foggy effects of sleep deprivation and improves our capacity to focus on learning new things.
Stress & anxiety
Our brains work a bit like a computer, we have a limited capacity for thoughts and once it’s full it may struggle to process thoughts and tasks and function well. A stressor refers to any stressful event that causes the brain to initiate its flight or fight response. When we encounter a barrage of stressors at once it’s easy to feel overwhelmed which can in turn lead to a lack of focus. When we experience stress consistently, we refer to it as chronic stress. Chronic stress is particularly bad for our focus as it can lead to more serious mental health conditions such as anxiety order, which studies have shown can be harmful to your ability to focus and cognitive function. Therefore it is vital to manage your stress levels if you want to attain a better level of focus. You can read more on the science of stress and how to manage it, in this blog on the science of stress.
Nutrition & hydration
Just like how a car needs fuel to run, our brains and bodies need fuel to function to the best of their abilities. Studies have shown that being hungry or dehydrated can dramatically decrease your ability to focus. Skipping meals or eating food that isn’t rich in nutrients can have a profound impact on your ability to focus. Therefore it is really important to make sure not only that you are eating consistently and at the correct times, but it is also important to pick foods that are rich in nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin C & D. If you’d like to know more about how what you eat can improve our focus, feel free to check out this blog post which goes into more depth about the effects of eating nutrient rich food for your body and mental health.
Lack of physical exercise
Our mind and body are intrinsically interlinked. Engaging in physical exercise gets our blood pumping and circulating around all of our organs including our brains. When your brain is full of oxygen and nutrients provided by good circulation you feel more active and awake which can prompt improved concentration and focus. Physical activity can also immediately boost the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, which can aid our focus. So getting active can play a big role in helping you achieve greater focus throughout the day.
The digital realm and focus
Amongst all the physical and mental factors that can affect your concentration, our interactions with technology may be one of the biggest culprits. The constant barrage of notifications and dopamine-inducing images and colours is distracting enough but technology can also also affect our focus in other ways. Blue light emitted from mobile phones is harmful to our ability to enter a deep sleep which in turn can affect our concentration. Taking some time for a “digital detox” can help improve concentration and improve your general feeling of well-being. By limiting your time screen time, particularly before bed, you won’t just sleep better but should also find it easier to focus during the day.
Staying focused in a fast moving modern environment can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Before focusing on issues external to ourselves, look at what internal factors may be harming your ability to concentrate. We are most focused when our body is not under pressure, so learning to listen to your body and recognise when you’re not giving it the right tools to maintain itself and keep you calm and focused. By making sure that you are sleeping well, eating right and engaging in some physical activity you should find it far easier to focus on what is important.