How long do you think your attention span is? Have you found yourself reading an interesting magazine and by the time you get halfway through it, you get distracted and say “I will get back to this when I have time”? How often do you find yourself flicking through endless newsfeeds and articles on your electronic device, but never really reading any of them until the end?
Just recently, I caught myself half watching a television program on a Sunday night while half checking my mobile phone and half chatting with my wife sitting next to me, never really engaging with any of these things fully. I asked myself – am I becoming part of this modern movement of people ‘addicted to distraction’? In this fast-paced, modern world, it seems we just can’t get enough of our emails and mobile phones.
The truth is, we are living in a time where we are bombarded by endless distractions and overloaded by information. Digital lifestyles are actually changing the human brain and we are losing the ability to focus on one thing for a prolonged period of time. We have an increased appetite for more stimuli and we seek constant gratification from our social media feeds and the internet.
OUR ATTENTION SPAN IS CHANGING
Our brains have a limited capacity of working memory, and with this constant overload of fragmented information we lose the ability to store information into our long-term memory. If our brain’s memory centre was a bottle of water, we would be ¾ full all the time with new snippets of information, leaving no room for anything more to store.
Researchers in Microsoft Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). They found that since the year 2000 (about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 to 8 seconds. “Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli — they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media,” the report read.
The survey also confirmed generational differences for mobile use; for example, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,” compared with only 10% of those over the age of 65.
So they’ve done it, goldfish have beaten us for a longer attention span! It is commonly thought that a goldfishes attention span is 9 seconds, and now humans are only 8 seconds.
Who really knows the attention span of a goldfish? All joking aside, we can do something about improving our attention span and this is where mindfulness practices can help us. By practicing mindfulness and meditation we gain the capacity to stay focussed for longer periods of time and become more aware of when our minds start to wander.
Next time you find yourself waiting for a friend or commuting on the train, or just simply in between tasks, resist the temptation to pull out your phone and occupy your time by flicking through your newsfeeds. Instead, just observe what is going on around you, give yourself and your mind some space. We do not need to fill every minute of the day with constant stimuli, try to enjoy the ’spaces’ between things and to tune into the present moment. This will give our brain a little break to process the events of the day and helps us give rise to creative thought and clarity of mind.