The human brain is prone to distraction; our ancient ancestors gained a distinct survival advantage by being able to quickly switch the focus of their attention. Our modern lifestyle of push notifications, open-plan offices and constant calls for our attention make it far easier for our brain to be distracted. We can even get hooked on this fast switching between tasks, causing our brains to actively seek it out.
Some people believe that the solution to all of this overwhelming input is multitasking. It’s not.
We are often seduced into thinking that our productivity can be increased by the latest fashionable strategies, time management apps and the like, but in fact being able to control our attention on demand will outperform all these approaches; it may well be one of the most effective skills you can learn.
The evidence is clear; those people who can take those extra moments to focus their attention fully on whatever they’re doing – whether it’s a short task or a big decision – tend to be more effective, whereas those who are constantly reacting to distractions and other stimuli tend to be less so.
So how do we manage our attention?
Your ability to keep your attention on one thing at a time is often called concentration. The good news is that it’s a skill that can be developed, and it doesn’t take hours of strenuous effort.
Learning to stay focused on just one thing for just a few seconds is often enough; repeat this simple act hundreds of times and your brain will learn to be more concentrated. Studies have shown that people who undertake a daily 10-minute mind training session can see measurable differences in their ability to stay focused within a matter of weeks.
One of the best strategies I know of for training your brain this way is a specific mindfulness meditation called Unified Mindfulness. This is the mindfulness approach we teach on our introductory course and it’s the technique I teach many of my clients to use. The technique is based on traditional approaches, yet has been modified to fit in with the busy Western lifestyle.
If you live within the Sheffield area, take a look at our short two-hour workshop where you will learn all you need to about this technique or search for Unified Mindfulness; the details are on our website.