An audio version of this article is available HERE
Have you noticed how fragmented your attention has become? Are you aware of how difficult it is to sit down and read a book for an hour? When was the last time you focused on anything for an hour without checking the news, your email or social media? Be honest with yourself. There is a war being fought for our attention and most of us are losing it. We have become attention lapdogs to the Silicon Valley tech gurus.
Have you seen people staggering around with their smartphones? Look up once in a while in any public space and pay attention to what most people are doing. I walk my dog for two hours every day through fields in the middle of nowhere and occasionally I come across another dog walker or rambler. Even in this environment many of the people I see have their heads down looking at a screen.
Endless access to new information pushes us to cognitive overload, raises our stress levels, and reduces our ability to learn and be creative. Do you find that your mind is full of the voices of those you follow on social media, constantly swirling around your head? Are you party to arguments between others that don’t concern you and engrossed in problems you can do nothing about? Are you overloaded with so much information that you can’t process it all?
If you have lost your ability to focus on anything for a length of time, you won’t learn to gain your attention back by accident. In the past we thought that people who engaged in physical training in order to improve their physical health were a little strange. Now we know it works and we are at least aware of how we can better look after our bodies. Mental training is just as beneficial for the mind. We can learn to be aware of our thoughts and more in control of our attention.
Start by planning how you want to spend your time and where you want to direct your attention. Consider practising mindfulness to help you become aware of your thought patterns and where your attention is being directed. Begin to practise slowly building your ability to focus your attention on activities for increasing lengths of time - ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, forty minutes, 50 minutes, one hour.
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