5 Steps to Improve Attention Span and Concentration

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Diagnosed cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) continue to rise hand-in-hand with TV, Internet, computer game, and portable media use. Marketers compete viciously to get your attention. It takes louder noises, brighter lights, and extreme headlines to pierce the wall of media’s onslaught. All these tricks leave your mind numb and unable to focus on your work, creativity, or studies. As you fight back and recognize the battle going on for control of your mind, you can increase your attention span and improve concentration.

What IS My Attention Span?

Your attention span is the length of time you can focus on something before you become bored or overloaded with information. That amount of time varies from person to person and depends on the type of activity. You’re likely to have a longer attention span while doing an active, hands-on project then listening passively to a presentation. You’re also more likely to pay attention and concentrate longer while being entertained than being taught. (Great presenters and teachers successfully blur the line between the two activities.)

Copywriters, reporters, and filmmakers design most forms of media to keep your attention – to essentially hijack your concentration. TV programs leave you in suspense right before a commercial break. Novels draw you in with a “hook” to read more. Newspapers, websites, and magazines project magnetic headlines and curious images.

Electronic media – computer games, Internet sites, video and audio programs, etc. – shackle our minds very well. I’ve wondered what connection there is between increasing cases of ADHD and the amount of electronic media they absorb.

How Marketers & Media Steal Your Attention

The children’s program Sesame Street launched in the late 1960s targeting preschoolers with an educational an entertaining TV show. One person involved with the show wrote:

“Vital to our work was research into education, child psychology, and how people of all ages learn, that concluded that music, color, movement, and involvement were essential factors in enhancing the learning process.”(1)

I understand that people at Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) conducted experiments running trials of certain programs with a young audience. They’d have other things going on offstage – deliberately – observing which programs riveted the children’s attention regardless of distractions. Programs with lots of color, movement and music captivated their audiences.

What began as a seemingly worthwhile cause soon mutated under the influence of marketers and media outlets. They’ve learned to manipulate our minds! They take our eyes and ears hostage with well-researched combinations of noises and color combinations.

An article from the Associated Press discussed possible legislation to restrict ever-increasing volume levels on TV commercials. Does it seem to you that many commercials sound much louder that the TV programs they interrupt? It’s no coincidence! Producers want to force you to pay attention to marketing messages that fund their programs.

How many colors, bright lights, and fascinating sounds do you observe in video games? They’re so prevalent that they make a parent or spouse’s voice disappear as meaningless drone. How do movies keep our attention for two and three hours at a stretch? Study cinematography or simply count how many times a camera angle changes within a few minutes.

It certainly seems that outside influences enslave our abilities to concentrate. We’re left numb and jaded, held back from focusing on learning activities which will improve our lives.

How to Reclaim Your Attention Span

1) Admit Your Problem

The effects of the burned out attention span include inability to concentrate while working, studying, or even during a conversation. Are these from a lack of ability, or, a lack of discipline? We’re all guilty of too much time in front of the TV, Wii, YouTube, Facebook, or with ears plugged into iPods. What will our short attention spans cost us in the long run? How might that unwillingness to concentrate harm our education, careers, and relationships?

2) Unplug!

How many of our daily activities depend on electricity or batteries? When we expose ourselves to so much electronic media that’s designed to take our attention away, we won’t have any left when we need it most. Be especially careful about commercial radio and TV because you’re at the whim of programmers and marketers; movie channels and DVDs at least let you choose what to watch without commercial interruptions.

3) Practice Concentrating Despite Distractions

When baseball players warm up their swings before walking up to home plate, the weights placed on their bats require them to exert additional effort. When they actually swing at the pitches (with weights removed) they use more force and generate faster bat speed. Studying or reading with some ambient noise can help you redouble your concentration and focus in on the subject much more. With practice, you can learn to block out even louder, more disruptive distractions.

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4) Build Up Your Mental Endurance

There’s a type of training used in the athletic world called interval training. This consists of regular, timed periods of high exertion followed by systematic intervals of less intense activity. Overall stamina and performance improve more quickly (and with less injury) than compared to long periods of intense workout. You can apply this principle to mental development. Partition your study and learning time with regular breaks to let your mind “breathe” and recover. Have you ever heard someone say, “My brain hurts?” Learning to build up mental endurance with bursts of concentration followed by spans of “thoughtless” recovery will make your learning time more effective. This habit will also preserve a better attitude and promote enthusiasm for the whole learning experience.

5) Make Your Learning Active

Don’t just absorb information – digest it! We can do this best with a pen and paper in hand. Writing notes while listening to someone, or even while watching a TV program turns it into an effective learning opportunity. Don’t simply underline or bracket phrases in a book, write down your interpretations or summaries of the information in the books’ margins.

Learn More from the Self-Study Program

These tips are discussed more in-depth in the How to Learn Higher Paying Skills book.

What other things have you noticed that help you improve your ability to concentrate? How does all the media you’re exposed to affect your mind? Is media harmful, or helpful when trying to get more knowledge, skills and abilities?

1See Trainers in Motion, by Jim Vidakovich

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