Attention is a precious resource. That’s a belabored point and not the thesis of this blog post. Instead, let’s look at what attention is, how technology changes its scarcity, and what we can do to reclaim it.
What is Attention?
Attention comes from the Latin word attendere, which literally means to reach or stretch toward. That’s a beautiful image, isn’t it? It conjures up elements of a novice yoga class when the teacher asks the attendees to go a bit deeper into the pose. Attention, like flexibility, is costly and affected by multiple factors, both internal and external. Learning how to harness these inputs gives us the ability to create attention on demand. However, as any seasoned yogi or gymnast will tell you, flexibility mandates consistent practice. Attention is similar. As we stretch toward more difficult goals more often, the process becomes more manageable.
We must also consider the external forces that affect attention. Let’s stick with the yoga class analogy to examine these factors. Yoga seldom happens in an environment cooler than eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Warm muscles are less likely to tear from stretching. Controlling the temperature increases our internal performance. External props like yoga blocks help bridge the gap between our present ability and areas of growth. External props like visual timers and noise-canceling headphones provide a similar function when studying. Don’t worry, we’ll also examine a few negative external factors in the next section. Mastering the balance of internal and external factors helps students improve attention over time.
Technology Is Not a Cause; It’s an Amplifier.
A quick note on technology’s relationship with attention: technology does not cause distraction or attention poverty; instead, it amplifies the effects. Distraction, forgetfulness, and other symptoms of attention deterioration have been around for centuries. However, they weren’t as widespread nor as detrimental. We have more stimuli competing for our attention today than ever before, with wizards of distraction designing more efficient machines every year (yes, I’m looking at you, Apple).
We have written extensively about the effects of technology on attention and how to mitigate them in other blog posts. Read more about the dangers of always-on thinking, the impact of cell phones, and relational complexity on our blog page.
Improving Attention through Space Creation
So, how do we reclaim our attention? How do we improve our ability to stretch or reach toward the right stimuli on demand? The key for increasing attention is the same as the key to enhancing our flexibility in yoga: space. We must allow ourselves the space for rest, and ultimately, growth. The problem is we have become very good at removing space from our lives.
Instead of relaxing into the space we might experience when waiting in line, waiting for an appointment, etc., we pull out our phones. We reach for the distraction instead of leaning into the discomfort, leaning into the stretch. Without a stretch, there will never be growth. As the great stoic philosopher Seneca, says, “The mind should not be kept continuously at the same pitch of concentration, but given amusing diversions.” We need these diversions to enhance and restore our attention.
So, encourage students to relax into downtime, to accept boredom. Waiting in line, riding in the car, and riding on an elevator are all hidden opportunities to increase attention by leaning into the space. Utilize them.
If you believe your child can benefit from tips like these, reach out to learn more about our unique one-on-one academic coaching program!