We live in a world that is accelerating: from our broadband to our transportation, to the fashion we buy, fast food we eat, home deliveries we order, even dating. You name it, we’re figuring out a way to make it happen faster. For many, a fast life is exhilarating and often gratifying, but there are some unfortunate truths to living at this continued upward pace. Burnout, hypervigilance and the erosion of focus are consequences of our existence at breakneck speed.
Since the dawn of the Net, the speed at which information is produced and distributed on mass has increased exponentially, which was researched and documented in a study by Dr Martin Hilbert and Dr Priscilla Lopez, in 2007. Lopez found that the average human, through television, social media, radio and reading, ingests a total of 174 86-page newspapers worth of information per day (and that was 15 years ago, imagine now!). This overstimulation of information isn’t compartmentalised well either; our brains often miss contextual clues, while the appetite to digest larger texts diminishes.
So, why has the importance of slowing down become a thing, and what do we stand to gain from it?
On an individual level, paying attention improves your memory, which in turn is invaluable for academic and professional performance. The ability to maintain focus helps strengthen interpersonal relations and allows for more meaningful connections. You will notice the finer details during conversations, discerning facts from information and discovering forthcoming trends. You will become more patient, which by slowing down and being present, is a quality that can make your life much more fulfilling in the long run.
If you’re like me and would like to dial back our sense of urgency, you can read into this topic further. Stolen Focus by Johann Hari provides a sobering temperature check of our digital world and the impact it’s having on our ability to stay focused.
Below are five ways that are proven to increase your focus.
There are mounds of evidence to suggest mindfulness training improves memory and other cognitive abilities. This doesn’t just mean sitting silently in a room either. Yoga, deep breathing and mindful appreciation will significantly improve attention and focus.
Regular exercise can help improve both concentration and attention after just four weeks. Other research looking at older adults suggests just a year of moderate aerobic activity can help stop or even reverse memory loss.
3. Improved sleep
Sleep deprivation can disrupt concentration, as well as other cognitive functions, including memory and attention. Regularly failing to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night can also affect your mood and performance at work.
4. Spending time in nature
If you live near a park, have a garden or even a backyard, make sure to step outside and get some sun! Try also adding a succulent or two to your workspace or home office for a range of positive benefits. Any natural environment encourages appreciation for the present, which provides a boost in your concentration.
5. Take a break
A digital detox might sound daunting, but several social experiments have found that taking a scheduled break away from your smartphone or digital device can significantly lower your stress levels. There are plenty of apps, including Freedom, that can provide a welcome respite from the noise of social media.
Ph.D. student calculates how much information is in the world
USC Annenberg, 17 June 2015
Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones
The Telegraph, 15 May 2015
You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish
Time, 14 May 2015
News Consumption Across Social Media in 2021
Pew Research Center
Moderate Exercise May Improve Memory in Older Adults
National Institutes of Health, 28 February 2011
Putting a Finger on Our Phone Obsession
Dscout, 16 June 2016