Feel like you’re running on a hamster wheel, beholden to the constant pinging of your phone, busier than ever? You’re not alone, with the trap of always being ‘on’ a curse of the modern day world.
A 2019 report from BankMyCell found that the average smartphone user checks their device approximately 63 times a day, and 69% check their phone within five minutes of waking up.i
These habits are taking a toll. In 2015, TIME reported that we now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.ii They traced the drop in attention back to the year 2000, when the mobile revolution started.
Most of us couldn’t work or even live without our smartphones, but there are ways to pair back the time you spend glued to technology and instead focus on your goals. And even without phone in hand, there are things vying for our attention – if you’re a parent it could be your kids, or at work it could be your co-workers and boss. Perhaps it’s even your mind processing a thousand thoughts per hour, or mulling over something from the past or worrying about the future.
We all contend with many distractions, both internal and external, on a daily basis. Here are some tips for building your attention span to take back control of your life.
Be deliberate about what you pay attention to
As well as spending less time with technology, think about other distractions you have to deal with. Perhaps you have noisy co-workers who hold impromptu catch-ups next to your desk, or the sound of construction next door to your office.
By flexing your discipline muscle, you’ll be able to focus your attention to ignore both internal and external factors that are making your mind wander. While you may not be able to put a stop to these distractions, such as a ringing phone or loud office chatter, think about how you can better cope with them. Maybe it’s physically removing yourself from the area or using noise-cancelling headphones, or consciously reverting your attention to your task at hand.
Reduce tech time
If accidentally leaving your phone at home sends chills down your spine, the thought of reducing the time you spend on your mobile may make you anxious. But many of us underestimate how long we spend on our devices. Having read the above statistic, do you think you check your phone much less than 63 times a day?
There are apps that will tell you exactly how long you spend on your phone. They can also block notifications, disable sites and send you reports of your weekly phone habits. The BankMyCell stats also reflect that 41% of respondents succeeded in limiting their phone usage, so this is an achievable goal that will make a real difference in your day to day life.
Pick up some reading material
While not everyone is a bookworm, reading is a hobby in which attention is key. Whether you pick up a book or something shorter such as a magazine or newspaper, reading strengthens your ability to concentrate on the single task at hand. ‘Use it or lose it’ certainly applies to our attention spans, and reading can help lengthen and strengthen them. And by choosing hard copies over reading on your phone, you’ll be avoiding eye strain and the negative effects of blue light.iii
Exercise can also help build not just literal muscles, but also your attention muscle. It has been found that physical exercise may strengthen the ability to pay attention due to a change in brain activity as a result.iv
Runners often credit the methodical ‘one front in front of the other’ rhythm of running as a way to slow their minds down and clear their thoughts. Other forms of exercise, such as lifting weights or taking a class in dance or yoga, can also hone our attention span as we’re following instructions and making mindful movements to ensure we avoid injuries.
You can make small changes in your life that can will build your attention muscle, better enabling you to stay present and focused. Being deliberate about what you pay attention to and how you spend your time will result in an improved ability to control your attention, and as a result, your life.