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May 10, 2024 46 mins

So many of us are struggling to stay focused and concentrate in an environment of constant distraction and temptation and it's causing a lot of us to feel unproductive and undisciplined. In today's episode we break down why our attention spans seem to be rapidly declining, we discuss: 

  • The Gold Fish myth
  • The average attention span from 2004-2017 
  • The impact of short form content
  • The impact of COVID lockdowns
  • Overstimulation and rising ADHD diagnoses 
  • Attentional cycles and our circadian rhythm 
  • Tips for regaining your focus + social media rules 

Listen now to reclaim your focus and concentration and reverse your declining attention span. 

Follow Jemma on Instagram: @jemmasbeg

Follow the podcast on Instagram: @thatpsychologypodcast 

 

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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:04):
Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Psychology of Your Twenties,
the podcast where we talk through some of the big
life changes and transitions of our twenties and what they
mean for our psychology.

Speaker 2 (00:23):
Hello, everybody, will welcome back to the show. Welcome back
to the podcast. New listeners, old listeners. Wherever you are
in the world, it is so great to have you here.
Back for another episode, another topic, another deep dive, as we,
of course break down the psychology of our twenties. Okay,
there has been a trend that I've been noticing recently,

(00:45):
both within myself but also those around me, across social media,
amongst my workmates, even from you guys, the listeners that
everybody is talking about, and that is our collective declining
ability to con and our ability to focus. So many
of us in this day and age are struggling to

(01:07):
stay on task, struggling to keep away from our phones
and kind of push back against like the siren call
of TikTok and Instagram. One professor has even stated that
our levels of inattention have reached an epidemic rate. That
might sound a little bit extreme, but I think that

(01:27):
it's something that all of us can relate to I
want you to seriously ask yourself the simple question of
when was the last time you were able to spend
a complete hour on a single task without getting distracted?
For me, I think for most of us we probably
can't remember that time. It's pretty safe to assume that

(01:49):
there has been a gradual decrease in our attention spends
going on for some years. A lot of us really
started noticing it post COVID and post Long Down, when
a lot of us really did get quite engrossed in
short form content on TikTok, when we lacked any structure
to our days, when we were allowed to kind of

(02:11):
follow any impulse that we had because there was nothing
else to do. That has seemingly bled into where we
are now and the consequences of that time. And I
think a whole number of factors is contributing to our
inability to focus and concentrate for a sustained period of time.

(02:31):
The area I think we notice it most is when
it comes to those kind of activities that require us
to be concentrated for some time. So I'm going to
say more than an hour at least, But where there
are our little short term consequences if we don't stay focused,
so things like study or remote work, where yes, there

(02:52):
are things that you need to get done, but you
are in charge of your own timeline, and so you
can get drawn into doom, scroll into Wikipedia, deep dives
into TikTok, look up at the clock, realize that thirty
minutes have gone by, and you know, having to kind
of try and start all over again, only to find

(03:13):
yourself a few minutes later drawn back into some other
task or some other source of entertainment. I think that
is the area where a lot of us arenoticing this occurring.
The other space is around daily planning and getting things
done on a daily level, daily tasks, but also in
conversations with others. I don't know if this is just

(03:35):
something I've noticed amongst my friends that we've spoken about,
but our conversations are becoming a lot more quick, and
there is a lot more space and a lot more
kind of like jumping around rather than like a continued
sustained focus on one topic. So I asked you, guys,
how many of you had noticed a shift in your

(03:57):
attention span in the last two five years. Eighty eight
percent of you had noticed at least some difference in
an area of your life, and sixty percent of you
noticed a huge difference within that. That was from almost
eight thousand responses. So this is not like a small number.

(04:19):
This isn't a small minority of the population, and it
shows that this impact on our ability to focus and
the impact that we're feeling on our attention spans is
significantly burdening. Those of us in our twenties and those
of us in younger generations. Think back to when we were,
you know, in our early mid teens. I remember that

(04:42):
I could sit down and read a book for hours
and the time would just fly by. I could focus
on my homework for a solid chunk of time before
I needed a break. I could watch TV and not
kind of needs to be on my phone at the
same time, I could have conversations and not be thinking
about my to do list and all the other things

(05:03):
that I needed to get done. I think our attention
spans are shrinking in very measurable and observable ways, and
it's valuable that we talk about it. So in today's episode, firstly,
we're going to understand why why is this happening? Do
we only have our phones to blame, or is it
kind of a broader combination of burnout, of overstimulation, of

(05:25):
repetitive workloads, of trying to do everything at once, and
you know, big media and marketing companies really leveraging what
they know about our attention spans. But also, what is
the impact if you haven't already seen an impact for yourself,
what is some of the psychology saying about what this
means for us long term? And finally, is there a solution?

(05:49):
I feel like that is quite a rhetorical question. Of
course there is. I wouldn't be talking about this if
I didn't have something that you could do about it.
So we're going to talk about it. And I also
wanted to hear from you guys. You all wrote in
some incredible responses about you know, late stage ADHD diagnoses
which are becoming so much more common. You spoke about

(06:11):
screen times above nine or ten hours a day, deleting
apps and then re downloading them later, miss deadlines, you know,
late night spent compensating for all the distractions. There were
so many valuable insights that came from you, all the listeners,
and I want to share it all. So without further ado,
I'm going to stop rambling and let's discuss what it

(06:33):
is about our attention spans these days and why it
seems harder than ever to stay focused. Let's get into it,
so let's quickly get up to speed on some of
the basics of attention. We tend to think of attention
as being only one thing, the ability to focus on

(06:56):
one specific task for a continuous period of time without
being distracted, and it's something that's in our control. What
we're talking about when we talk about a controlled, sustained
period of focus is actually only one form of attention
called sustained attention. We also have selective attention, where there

(07:17):
are multiple stimuli and things going on in the environment
and we have to choose to focus on just one
and tune in or filter out the other distractions. And
then we have alternating attention. This is also known as multitasking,
where we switch back and forth between tasks that have
different cognitive demands. So this might sound efficient, right, You're

(07:39):
writing your essay whilst also listening to a lecture, or
you're texting and driving. That's the classic one. But study
after study will tell you that when you're performing two
or more tasks at once, especially ones that are cognitively
demanding and splitting up your focus. This will actually lead
to lower efficiency on both tasks. It makes us sloppier,

(08:03):
it increases our stress. But also, I think I can
speak from experience, it takes so much more time than
if you've just done each thing, you know, one after
the other and consecutively. So that is alternating attention. And
the final kind of attention we have is divided attention,
and this is very similar to alternating. It basically highlights

(08:26):
our ability to react to two or more different demands
or things in our environment simultaneously. So this kind of
attention dividing attention is just less cognitively demanding. It basically
is you know, your ability to watch TV whilst also
eating normally. The actions that we're doing are quite procedural.

(08:46):
So of all these kinds of attention, the area where
a lot of us are suffering is selective attention. Basically,
our environment has a lot of stuff going on, and
we have to choose to only focus on one thing
within that in order to get shit done. I think
most people without chronic attention issues or conditions or neurotypes

(09:09):
like ADHD could likely focus fairly well if they were
given a task in a quiet, empty room. That is
where sustained attention really flourishes, when we only have one
thing to do, one thing to focus on, nothing else.
But in a very modern world, these conditions they are

(09:31):
so rare. Our lives are filled to the brim with
opportunities for distraction or competing stimuli, and so we need
to be able to filter all those other things out
and prioritize what's in front of us. That is becoming
a lot harder, leading to a greater reliance on alternating attention,
switching back and forth from our phone to our computer,

(09:53):
to our environment to somebody talking without limited success. Some
people who are a lot more qualified than me have
sought some answers and explanations to this problem of our
diminishing selective and sustained attention. So there was a recent
study in the UK done at King's College, London, and

(10:14):
it found that about half of US adults think that
our attention spans are getting shorter, and that number is
actually going to go up for people between the ages
of eighteen and thirty four. Sixty six percent of us
in that age bracket, which I'm assuming is probably you
noticing a change, a shift and one that is noticeable.

(10:38):
So there is like a common myth that has been
swirling around that our attention spans are now so poor
that they rival that of a goldfish. It might feel
that way sometimes, but actually we're still very much winning
that competition, but only by a little bit. And we
know this based on a longitudinal study that is actually
still going on now. So one of the leading race

(11:00):
churches in this space, in the space of attention, is
doctor Gloria Mark and she is a psychologist and a
professor from the University of California, Irvine. Now, back in
the early two thousands, whilst she was studying people's attentional rhythms,
which we're going to get back to a little bit
later on, she started to notice that the people she

(11:23):
was observing were really not doing too good at staying
on track when it came to the tasks that they
were being asked to do. So she switched focus. She
wanted to see how long most of us, or the
people that she had sampled for her studies, could stay
on a task or a project before moving along, and

(11:44):
whether that this was being impacted by new technologies. So
at the time it wasn't. It was kind of like phones,
but also computers. It was really before like the social
media craze. But because she started early, she was able
to track our attention spans through the use big societal
shifts in our access to technology. So she started back

(12:05):
in two thousand and four, that's almost two that is
two decades ago. And what they would do at the
very beginning was they would quite literally follow people around.
They would shadow their participants for a day with stopwatchers.
That was the best kind of technology they had available
to them at the time. And for every single activity

(12:25):
that they did, they would record the start time and
the stop time. So if you are on a screen
working on a word doc, as soon as you pick
up your phone to check your email, you stop doing
the word dock activity, and the time of the email
activity starts. As soon as you stop with your email

(12:46):
and you go and look at TikTok, for example, the
email activity stops, TikTok starts. And they wanted to see
how long people were spending on each different activity before
they seemingly got bored and moved on to the next.
Back in two thousand and four, the average attention span

(13:06):
was about two and a half minutes. Throughout the years,
it's become even shorter, So around twenty twelve it was
seventy five seconds, and then in the last you know,
five six years, that has almost halved again to where
we are now, which is roughly forty seven seconds. That's

(13:26):
the average amount of time that we spend concentrating on
a task before we shift focus. And if that number
seems quite impossibly small, there have been other studies that
have since replicated the exact same finding within seconds and
again and again. Around forty seven forty five seconds is

(13:47):
the median. If you want to test that for yourself,
have a look at your phone pickup data in your settings.
So I will out myself. I will go first. I
looked at this earlier today and yesterday I picked up
my phone around two hundred and thirty five times across
a fifteen hour period. That is sixteen times an hour,

(14:11):
so almost once every five minutes. Now that's not exactly
forty seven seconds, but you've got to remember once every
five minutes, but I'm probably spending a minute on it
each time. I'm probably jumping between different apps, and then
I'm coming back to the task, then I'm picking up
the phone again. It is all kind of averaging out

(14:33):
to a forty second you know, median amount of time
that you can spend focused on one thing. I will
say that this sounds alarming. A lot of researchers have
noted that this is very much task dependent. So if
you are doing something really engaging, you can really focus
on that single thing for a while, compared to if

(14:55):
you're sitting in sitting in on a task that is
repetitive or unnecessary, boring, like a work meeting that you
really don't feel like you need to be at, or
a lecture where you're not really being given an opportunity
to engage, especially if it's online. Right, You're more prone
to distraction in those cases because you're not fully immersed
or engaged in what you're doing. So in this way,

(15:18):
the idea of an average attention span is quite vague,
because I think most of us would find it hard
to not wander off or seek out another form of
entertainment when we're doing something that doesn't really require a
lot of mental effort. Right, if you're just staring at
a screen for five minutes doing nothing, not really engage

(15:40):
in your brain. Of course, there is going to come
a time where you get bored, and especially your brain
gets bored and pushes you to seek out, you know,
a tasty little spike of dopamine from something else in
your environment. So I wanted to hear from you guys.
When it came to this for me, I really began
to notice my declining focus back when I started full

(16:01):
time work, but especially when I would work from home.
There was no accountability. There was no pressure of an
exam or an assignment deadline at university. There was no
one watching over my shoulder, and so that digital temptation
of my phone was pretty easy to fall into. This
only got worse when I quit my full time job

(16:24):
and I started working exclusively for myself. Yes, I am
super passionate about what I do, and I have a
lot of motivation to get stuff done. But when you
are alone for eight hours a day most days, working
in your house in the same environment, there are a
lot of opportunities for distraction. But it's also quite boring

(16:45):
and understimulating to be doing the same thing, And so
my brain kind of circles my environment, and it circles
my surroundings, and it is always looking for something better
to be doing that is going to feel more enjoyable.
I think it's a really good point to be made here,
especially in our current work environments. For a lot of us,

(17:07):
you can't really sit down, buy yourself for eight, nine
ten hours a day, stare at a screen and not
expect yourself to be distracted, or you know, believe that
you could pay attention for that entire time. The human
brain just doesn't work like that. So I wanted to
hear from you guys, and what you had to say
about this. Here is someone who articulated it quite well.

(17:30):
Since COVID, my attention span has suffered greatly. I am
such a routine person and I like to be productive. However,
I somehow pick up my phone for a five minutes
scroll and then an hour or two has been wasted
away due to an unintentional brain rotting death scroll. Then
I feel ashamed and guilty, yet also paralyzed because I

(17:52):
think that I've wasted the whole day, and there I go,
I have to start again tomorrow. That shame spiral this
person mentioned is something we need to speak about, because
the more powerless and overwhelmed we feel, the more this
object our phone controls us. Because it feels almost personified right, like,
it's not this inanimate object, it is this thing that

(18:14):
is staring back at us that can truly impact and
influence our emotional state. And there is this constant tug
of war between wanting to assert control over our phone
but feeling like it's constantly winning, and finding that we're
constantly being pulled in by a notification, by a call,

(18:34):
by a text, by an email, by just our brains,
constant seeking out of the dopamine that we know our
brain will provide. Here's another perspective that I think touches
on something similar. I always need to have some real
slash videos playing in the background, or else I'll feel
super bored and constantly distracted by my own thoughts that

(18:57):
are telling me to not touch my phone. I've been
trying to set fifteen minute Instagram reminders, but it's not
helping it all. I hate it so much. It feels
like I'm no longer living in the moment. I think
that's what makes this so difficult again, is knowing how
we want to live our lives, knowing what we could
do with all that time, lamenting it how unproductive we are,

(19:20):
and feeling powerless like our phones have kind of hijacked
our previously functioning attentional systems, and no matter what we do,
we cannot influence this behavioral pattern. So I want to
hear from one more person who has something to say
on this as well. My attention span has been seriously
impacted ever since I graduated high school. Beginning in college,

(19:42):
I've noticed a severe decline in my ability to focus,
to pay attention, or stay motivated in school, work, family obligations,
even in conversations with others unless I am really interested
in it. I've also seen an uptick in my issues
with organization, forgetfulness, and procrastination, even with things that I

(20:02):
really care about. It's frustrated the people in my life
who depend on me, or I end up having to
ask them for help, like when I forget my keys
for the sixth time and my roommate has to come
home to let me in. That very functional impact is
also something that needs to be acknowledged. It's like our
brain has lost its executive functioning skills and it's kind

(20:27):
of sabotaging us in a way. If you have a
neurodevelopmental disorder like ADHD, it makes sense that you would
have trouble paying attention or you would you know, struggle
with your impulse control. But the global prevalence for ADHD
is around six to nine and a half percent. Probably
that is a lower end estimate when you know, we
start focusing on things like late stage diagnosis or the

(20:51):
fact that they are very poor criteria for identifying women
and girls, especially women of color, people of color, and
also some of the stigma towards neurodis developmental disorders. That
rate of prevalence might be a little bit higher, probably
around ten percent, but that doesn't really match up with
the eighty percent of people who are experiencing this decline, Like,

(21:11):
we can't all have ADHD, right, that would be a
global phenomena, So there must be another explanation. I will say,
if you do think that ADHD would provide the answers,
it is something that is likely that you have. You
should listen to episode one hundred and forty eight with
Ellie Middleton. She is an ADHD and autism advocate, and
she goes into this more. She talks a lot about

(21:34):
late stage and late onset and diagnosis when you're an adult,
and also some of the misconceptions. But for people without
a diagnosis or who you know don't believe they have ADHD.
There can be little explanation for why our attention spans
are suffering, So I want to talk about some of
the other reasons that we are struggling to focus and

(21:56):
struggling to concentrate after this short break, I think when
we are looking for an explanation for why our attention
spans are so fucked, we need to focus on what
some people say as the main culprit. Of course, it's
our phones that is often the first place that our

(22:19):
mind goes to. Our phones and the apps that they
contain provide so much temptation but also more stimulation than
we can ever really get out of our everyday lives
and everyday moments, which is quite sad. But when you
think about the design of social media apps, for example,
or the way that you receive notifications for texts, for calls,

(22:42):
for messages, it is all meant to achieve one thing.
It is meant to keep us hooked, keep us online,
and keep us using So, as one author put it,
screens and our phones in particular present a very unique
mindfield of distraction because they are providing us with a
constant flow of information and stimulation. At its core, Social

(23:07):
media in particular was designed to capitalize on how we think,
so it's little surprise that we're really drawn to it.
It's not just the fact that there are algorithms catching
our attention. We have this sense that we have to respond,
we have to check. We don't want to be left out,
and we know that if we go to our phones

(23:27):
for entertainment, it will provide. In the same article, it
goes on to explain that human brains, we know this already,
They really crave novelty, they really like excitement, but also
social connection and all of these apps that we find
ourselves addicted to essentially provide that in a very easily

(23:51):
accessible format. And it also provides a sense of reward.
So every time you go to your phone for that dope,
mean hit, you know that you will find something that
will satisfy you. You know that you will find a
funny video. You know that you will find some piece
of gossip or a photo of a friend that makes

(24:12):
you feel kind of clocked into this broader social network,
so it keeps you coming back for more. The other factor,
another component of this, is that when you continuously give
into the temptation which it's hard not to do, right,
That's the whole point of this design, Like they want
you to stay hooked. So when you do what they
have essentially instructed you and manufactured you to do, and

(24:36):
you pause a task to check your phone, your brain
also has to shift gears. It has to stop what
you were previously doing and move on to this new task.
And this process, this kind of jumping about that negatively
affects the overall speed and quality of your work in
the short term and in the long term. The more

(25:00):
you engage in task shifting, the more your brain wants
to wander off and look for that new thing, because
you have somewhat conditioned it into thinking, Okay, when I've
spent five minutes on something, ten minutes on something, I
get a reward, I get to change focus. And you've
become very much used to alternating your attention rather than

(25:24):
sustaining your attention. In other words, to put it more simply, essentially,
what is happening here is that our brains are getting
used to constant diversions, and that these diversions have become habit.
So that is why you don't even consciously think about
it before you pick up your phone to check a
message before you pick up your phone, to check social

(25:46):
media before you get up and go to the bathroom,
even though you don't need to go right it's because
this is a habit that has been kind of implanted
in your brain. So even when you have a conscious
intention to not do something, the procedural and automatic nature
of our social media habits, in particular of our reaching
for distraction of all of those things have become quite

(26:11):
permanent and, like we said, quite automatic. So let's hear
from our listeners about this. Because somebody DMed me and
it was a really great example of how this happens.
I have no attention span, and I think that is
largely due to short form content like TikTok. I've been
desperately trying to put my phone down and increased time

(26:33):
doing stuff I love that doesn't involve a screen. I
deleted TikTok a couple of months ago. However, my screen
time is no better, and I still find myself stuck
on my phone. My UNI work has suffered dramatically this
last year, and I cannot, for the life of me, concentrate.
I haven't been able to finish any crochet projects, something
that I love doing, and I can't finish books either.

(26:57):
It's really frustrating. And I think my phone use is
the biggest issue. I mean, right now, I've been sat
on it for an hour instead of getting dressed. Thank
you so much for sharing. I think the other factor
in this is that going to our phones for entertainment
is so easy. It's like the easier, easiest alternative. It
is the path of least resistance because it is so

(27:19):
effortless to be immediately carried away, whereas reading or crochet
projects like this person mentioned, they take more time to
get into. They really require a bit of a setup.
You know. It's so much easier to go from working
on a task that requires a lot of cognitive effort
like at work or at UNI and going to your

(27:40):
phone where your brain can shut down, versus having to
completely shift to getting into a book, getting into a plot,
getting into creating something. But what's fascinating to me is
that the creation of something, the pursuit of something, the
engagement with something like knowledge like fiction like a book,
or or something active like making things, it is more

(28:03):
fulfilling in the long term, but it just takes more
effort to start and nowadays we have an easier alternative, right,
Like we can just go and look at short form videos.
We can just get our hit there. So the question
that I kind of want to pose in response to
that is is it that we are more distractable? Is
it that our attention spans are declining and it is

(28:26):
our fault? Or is it just that the world around
us is more distracting and that big media and marketing
companies and apps are just like aggressively trying to fight
for our attention and therefore leveraging what they know about
our brain, which is that it likes novelty and newness
and that it doesn't like uncertainty or boredom, and it

(28:46):
is taking that information. These companies, these designers are taking
what they know about our brains and using it to
essentially hijack our motivational and attentional systems for profit. Basically, like,
is it our fault? Is it our fault that this
is what is happening to so many of us? Or
is it just that our brains are being flooded deliberately

(29:08):
with dopamine from our phones. Is it that we are
increasingly working long hours at disengaging jobs in boring offices
without sunlight. Is it that we are just constantly being
fed very fast and quick and efficient entertainment and few alternatives.
So I want to focus on that explanation for a second.

(29:30):
Let's kind of put our phones and let's put social
media aside for a moment. I think it's gotten enough
hate in this episode. I've given it enough hate. Let's
look at some other elements or other explanations as to
why our attention spans are failing us. Is the reason
that we can't focus anymore because we are perhaps too
stressed and too overwhelmed. That is another explanation. So in

(29:52):
his book Stolen Focus author Joanne Hari, who you might
also know from his book Lost Connections, it talks about
how information overload has been creeping into our lives and
impairing our ability to pay attention. For some time. Back
in the day, we spent so much more time being present.

(30:13):
We had less to navigate and to do. Our jobs
were a lot more based on problem solving or serving.
They were kind of forward facing. They were, you know,
very much like solution focused, like there was something very tangible,
a problem that was very tangible that needed to be
fixed or needed to be fulfilled and we would do that.

(30:36):
They were also a lot more social and a lot
more collaborative, which is another thing that we need to
make note of. Nowadays it is so much simpler, but
that also means it is so much more boring. It
is more boring to move something around and excel spreadsheet,

(30:56):
to enter emails all day without connecting. I think that
back then it was simpler times, and now we are
being asked to do so much more in a much
more restrictive environment without really knowing our purpose, and our
work has become very fairstly, screen based, but also repetitive,

(31:17):
almost draining, and in an increasingly I think competitive and
overwork generation. Burnout is also pretty rampant because we are
pushing ourselves to do more, to be more in an
environment and in a situation that isn't necessarily fulfilling. So
I think it's no wonder that we have little bandwidth
for everything going on in our lives. It is no

(31:39):
wonder that we are constantly bouncing between things that grab
our attention. We no longer have the mental resources to
properly control our impulses or our concentration because of how
worn down we are by burnout and then of course
also by overstimulation. So this is another component of this
book that we were talking about, stolen focus. He speaks

(32:04):
about how our brains are just being pushed so much
more environmental stimuli than ever before, and so it can't
actually navigate all of these things. It can't actually create
a hierarchy or a list of what it needs to
focus on first. You know, I think about this when
I thought about this when I was in the city
the other day in Sydney and there are flashing billboards,

(32:26):
there are crowded spaces, bright lights, heavy traffic, there is
like loud music playing from every single store in supermarkets,
on the bus, and then my foreign is buzzing. There
is so much more information to process at a rate
that is faster than our brain has been able to
adapt or evolve to. The demands have outstripped our brain's

(32:47):
capacity for evolution. It's important to remember that we have
a brain that was designed for thousands of years to
exist in nature, to exist in small groups, to feel
the ground with our feet, to forage for berries, to
problem solve, to think about survival, not just to be
focused on a screen that is thirty centimeters from our face.

(33:11):
At all hours of the day. So that shift from
really seeing the world more broadly, engaging with the environment,
to engaging with something digital and very closed off and
very like, I don't know, right in front of our
face is like the best way I can kind of
think about putting it. That shift has only really taken

(33:31):
place in the last I would say generously, like fifty
years and fifty years that is only a generation of adaptation,
whereas there were thousands of generations and thousands of opportunities
for evolution and development and adaptation in you know, in
our ancestors, in the times that have come before that

(33:52):
have created the brain that we have now for these
new circumstances. So, you know, thousands of years of doing
things one way and then in the last fifty years
suddenly everything has changed. When you zoom out and think
about it in that way, our brains just genuinely cannot
process what is happening in our environment based on what
it was, you know, what it has evolved and developed

(34:13):
to do. Those things are too dissimilar, and so our
attention span is essentially failing to keep up. We can't concentrate,
we can't focus. It's not an isolated problem. It is
not just a U problem or a ME problem. It
is a collective societal problem. So is that it do
we kind of just leave it there and watch our

(34:35):
attention spans continue to decline until we are like goldfish?
Obviously not, I have saved the best for last, because
as irreversible as the headlines and the articles make it sound,
we can still fix our attention span and reverse some
of the damage that is done by all of the

(34:56):
above culprits, not just our phones, but our environment. So
I have five practical tips for you today, and know
they are not going to be things like get enough
sleep or exercise, because I think we probably are all
aware of those. Instead, I have some actual scientific practices
for you to implement, probably even starting today if you

(35:16):
would like. We're going to begin with the first one,
find your peak focus times. Something that you will notice
is that there are different points in the day where
you are just more focused than others. Each of us
actually has a specific period when we are more attuned
and focused, and it's easier to concentrate because sustained attention

(35:40):
occurs in a rhythmic pattern. So there was a paper
published in twenty nineteen in the Yale Journal of Biology
and Medicine, and it found that our cognitive performance either
peaks between ten am and two pm or four pm
to ten pm. That doesn't mean that you can't still
get things done outside of those times or in a

(36:03):
time that doesn't necessarily align with your peak focus time,
just that it might be harder. And this focus period
is determined by our chronotypes, which is basically our body's
natural inclination to be awake and asleep and alert or
passive at different times during the day, and it is

(36:23):
based on our circadian rhythm. Put simply, our body works
on a rhythmic kind of scale. It works on a
cycle of alertness and kind of sleepiness, I guess is
the opposite of that. Some of us are early birds,
and some of us work really well during the night

(36:44):
when the sun is down, and that all depends on
how your circadian rhythm is set up. So I'm definitely
the latter. I can concentrate for much longer at nighttime,
and I've found that that makes me a lot more
productive instead of trying to force myself to do like
incredibly like cognitively overwhelming and like mentally strenuous tasks like

(37:08):
first thing in the morning, I save them for after
like five PM, or like at least after two PM,
because I know that between the hours of like nine
and twelve, that is the time when I need to
do things that are a little bit more passive and
that require a little bit less effort because they're just easier,
and you know, I'm not as alert during those times

(37:31):
for some people, though, I have a friend who works
really well between like five am and ten am. It's
about finding what works for you, and if you want
to support your ability to concentrate, try and recognize and
notice when it feels like you are most in a
flow state without trying. So a flow state is a
mental state in which we are completely focused in on

(37:52):
a single task or activity and fully immersed. We feel
both energized, but we're also enjoying the process. So that
is like one of those examples of when you're just
you look up the clock, you realize that you've been
working on your paper for like half an hour, or
you've been fixing up an Excel deck or a PowerPoint

(38:13):
deck for you know, an hour, and you haven't even
realized You've been editing something, You've been talking to somebody
for that period of time, and time is just going
by super quickly because you are so focused. And the
reason behind your focus is both probably that you're engaged,
but most likely you're also conducting this activity at a

(38:35):
time when you are better able to concentrate. So try
and find those times and perform those heavy duty tasks
during that period. This really brings me to my next tip.
Choose your high focus tasks. Focus on them, but when
you're done with them, stop. Don't try and keep forcing
yourself to do things out of a productive window when

(38:57):
you're really fear yourself, like wanting to take a break,
wanting to go on your phone. It might sound counterintuitive,
but help yourself by giving space to those activities that
you see as bad, giving space to distraction, giving space
to some doom scrolling, whatever it may be. I think

(39:19):
we often get into a little bit of a panic
that we can't focus, and we go to an extreme
and we try and completely shut off those temptations, shut
off that part of us that wants that distraction, when
actually it is part of the process. Your brain will
eventually need a break from what you're doing. You cannot

(39:41):
sustain selective attention or even focused attention for that long.
There is a certain point where you will max out,
and you do need to provide your brain with some
release and some relief. So actually can let yourself have
opportunities to do those things instead of kind of putting
them on a pedestal or making them taboo or villainizing

(40:04):
them more than they need to and therefore giving them
a lot of the power to control you. You are
actually in control of your behavior, so you're going to
give yourself permission to allow for points of distraction. It's
also valuable to cue attention by remembering that our attention
is goal orientated, and it's goal directed. We are better

(40:25):
at staying on task if we are regularly reminded of
what it is that we're trying to achieve. If this
task is just something that's pointless, if we don't see
the outcome, if we aren't reminded of why the why
behind what we're doing, of course we're not going to
care about it. Of Course it's going to be harder
to concentrate. Of course we're going to want to do
the thing that is more exciting and more fun and

(40:48):
gives us more dopamine. So to counteract that, what you
can do is write out your goal on a post
a note and place it where you can see it
to kind of help you stay focused before you set
out to do something big like start on a huge essay,
start on a huge assignment, a huge work project, a
huge house claim. Provide yourself for three reasons why you

(41:11):
want to do this thing and how it's going to
feel when you're done, and two things that you're going
to give yourself when you're finished. So instead of thinking
just about, oh my god, this is so rough, this
is so hard, I'm so exhausted, There's so much I
would rather be doing, really activate that part of yourself
that feels goal directed and that knows it's going to

(41:31):
be satisfied when this task is complete. Okay, So I
have four final tips for you that are specifically around
controlling social media usage, because, as we've spoken about, as
a lot of you wrote in, that seems to be
our main problem. Of course, they are designed to get
you hooked. It is in the layout, it is in

(41:52):
the architecture of social media apps, of digital technology. But
we can actually counteract the strategies that they're leveraging to
keep us hooked. To reverse how addictive social media is.
We can look at how they are getting us engaged
and prevent or push back against those strategies. Here are

(42:17):
some of the ways that we can do that. Firstly,
only use social media on your laptop or on your
desktop computer. This helps limit kind of the constant temptation
to bring out your phone at any stage. And like
hook into the apps, there is a place and a
time and a location where you can access the information

(42:41):
and the entertainment of social media. It's not that you're
completely cutting yourself off, but you are making it less
accessible throughout the day. Secondly, set usage limits, and when
you hit your usage limit and find yourself wanting to
just brush past the alert, stop and ask why what

(43:02):
are you getting from going back on that app? Or
is it just a lot of short term gratification and
a dopamine spike? Is it just because you're bored? And
could you do something else instead? I would say, go
and download an app that feels more productive on your
phone that you can go to as an alternative. I'm

(43:24):
talking like a crossword app. I'm talking a newspaper app
like the New York Times or The Atlantic or the Guardian,
so that when you are feeling compelled to get that nice,
gewey feeling from your phone, you're actually getting something useful
out of that urge. Also turn off notifications. I've done this.
It's incredible. My friends will tell you that I'm always

(43:48):
on do not Disturb, which I'm sure pisss a few
of them off, because sometimes, yeah, it does take me
a little while to reply, but I actually think that
that is worth it because I get more done because
I'm not getting pulled into like the consumption vortex when
I just wanted to reply to like a short message. Finally,

(44:08):
use gray great, use a gray scale over your apps,
so there is a setting in your phone if you
have an iPhone, that is going to make all of
the content gray, black and white, so that the reward
of seeing these bright colors and flashes of light and
all of these things is less appealing. And you're still

(44:29):
seeing the same content. You're still seeing the messages, you're
still seeing the reels, you're still seeing like the like,
the comments and all those things that you would go
to social media for. But it's taken away the kind
of color allure, and it's taken away like the gratification
of seeing something bright that doesn't really exist in the

(44:50):
real like in the outside world. That's going to keep
you coming back for more. I think that that's everything
that I that I have for you today. I'm realizing
that this ended up being is significantly long episode, so
on theme, if you had the attention span to make
it all the way through, congratulations. I really hope that
you enjoyed this episode. I will say I'm also quite sick,

(45:13):
and I probably should have addressed it at the beginning,
but I have tonslidis, which is, you know, maybe something
that you can hear in this recording, So thank you
for bearing with me as I am a little bit
more nasally. I'm literally recording this in bed. So if
you have made it this far, thank you. Make sure
that you are following us on Spotify, Apple podcasts wherever

(45:36):
you are listening right now, and if you can leave
a five star review, it would be greatly appreciated. It
really helps the show to grow and reach new people.
If you have anything else to say on this topic,
as well, as you probably heard, a lot of the
insights did come from you, the listeners, so please feel
free to dm me on Instagram at that Psychology podcast.

(46:00):
I would love to hear from you. I would love
to hear your thoughts, your opinions, your feelings, and as always,
we will see you next week. Until then, stay safe,
be kind, be gentle with yourself, and we will talk
again soon
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