How To Be Less Distractible (Part II: Shifting Your Attention)

 

At its core, distraction is essentially a product of weak attentional control; failing to control where we channel our attention is what results in being easily and perpetually distracted over the course of the day. Digital distractions, in particular, are particularly difficult to ignore, partly because we’ve come to treat them like inevitable daily occurrences.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of the classic bestseller “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”, digital distractions are so difficult to ignore because they overload our attention so much that it erodes our self-control.

In other words, because we’re so busy attending to all the different daily distractions, our default attentional state has become entirely reactionary and spontaneous instead of purposeful and deliberate.

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The cure for a constantly distracted mind, then, is becoming more intentional about what we pay attention to every day. The fact of the matter is that attention and self-control are both scarce resources; without being more discriminating in how we choose to allocate them daily, we fail to make full use of them.

It’s easier said than done, though; so many of the devices and services we use are specifically designed to attract and hold our attention for far longer than necessary. Apart from recognising our biggest sources of distraction, then, it’s imperative to understand how to take back control of your attention. Here are 3 tips on how to do just that.

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1. Train your mind for deep focus

 

The opposite of distraction is focus. Where every new distraction fragments and splinters your attention, focus necessitates that you gather all of your attentional resources and channel it on one specific thing. The reason why this is so hard to do today, though, is that we’re not used to it; a 2015 Time article reported that the average person today loses concentration after 8 seconds.

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According to Cal Newport, computer scientist and bestselling author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success In A Distracted World”, cultivating the mental ability for deep focus requires that you stop allowing your mind to work on autopilot every day. Ritualising your schedule, then, is critical in developing the ability to focus and become relatively impervious to distractions.

He recommends developing a personal “deep work” ritual that answers the following questions:

  • Where you’ll work and for how long
  • Rules to structure your attention (for example, no internet)
  • How you’ll support your work (rules for how you’re going to help yourself get into and maintain focus, like incorporating a power nap to reinvigorate your mind)

 

Other strategies to help train your mind to focus include:

  • Working according to the Pomodoro technique (do a 30-minute distraction-free burst of focus, followed by a 5-minute break, and another 30-minute burst)
  • Keeping your daily to-do list to 3 or 4 items (it forces you to prioritise and focus more attention on few things, rather than trying to attend to everything and not really getting it)

 

 

2. Change the way you use your devices

 

Smartphones are undoubtedly one of the hugest sources of distraction today. It’s no longer that uncommon to pick up your phone 100 times a day, or to while away hours on it watching cat videos or playing mobile games. The problem is, most of us are joined at the hip to our smartphones; because they’re such amazing multitasking devices, they’re with us all the time, increasing the probability that we’ll get distracted with each new ping and alert.

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It’s absurd, though, to jump immediately to the conclusion that we’re much better off without smartphones. Since the problem here is excessive smartphone use, the solution is to pursue moderation. Changing the way you interact with your devices on a daily basis can make a huge difference is helping to you be less distractible.

  • Turn off push notifications when you need to go into deep-focus mode
  • Use airplane mode or “Do Not Disturb” mode as and when you need to
  • Track and put limits on your daily screen time
  • Try implementing “no-internet” time blocks every day
  • Leave your phone charging outside your room so you won’t spend hours on it the last thing before bedtime and the first thing in the morning

 

 

3. Cultivate mental presence through mindfulness

 

If our minds are so used to constantly reacting to a new stimulus, whether it’s social media or a new text, it learns to multitask constantly and to keep running in the background. This is why you might feel like time rushes past without you realising; since you’re distracted, you’re not paying full attention to what’s really happening around you.

Subsequently, you have less mental clarity, encounter “brain fog” more often, and probably feel like you can’t shut down your mind when you want to.

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Developing greater mental presence is a powerful antidote to this since it puts us back in control of our attention. Research has shown that those who practice mindfulness or meditate regularly, are better able to direct and focus their attention to focus on the present moment.

While this might not sound like a big deal, it has a clear payoff; the more control you exert over your attention, the less distractible you are.

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