Building Your Attention Muscle

It has become increasingly difficult to concentrate in the modern world because our attention is constantly being hijacked by persistent interruptions. One of the most valuable skills we can possess is the ability to focus for long periods of time by building our attention muscles.

Single tasking. If you think back to a time when you were the most productive, chances are you weren't multitasking but were instead focusing your efforts on one task at a time. Single tasking is a simple and efficient way to get more done, but in practice, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The good news is it’s a skill we can gradually build on it over time.

Start Small. Although it may sound simple, single tasking requires a great deal of work and effort to put into practice, so it’s important to start small. Begin by setting yourself a small amount of time (e.g 10 mins) to work solely on one task. If your mind wanders, immediately bring your focus back to the task at hand. As you continue to do this you’re working out your attention muscle by pushing back against your wandering mind so over time you will increase your ability to focus. As your attention muscle grows and strengthens, you will start to see an increase in the amount of time you can focus for.

Here are some ways to practice single tasking so you can build your attention muscle:

  • Reading - the is a great way to start your journey towards building a stronger attention muscle. When reading pay as much attention as you can to what you are reading. Inevitably your mind will begin to wander off at some point but when it does just slowly bring it back. Each time you do this, it is like performing another rep to exercise and strengthen your attention muscle. Over time you will notice that you can concentrate for longer periods of time before getting distracted. You will also notice that you have a better understanding and actually take in more of what you’re reading. I always find that I’ve forgotten huge parts of a book only a few months after reading it so this should definitely help with that.

  • Actively Listening - similar to the method above, another way to develop your attention muscle is to actively listen and bring all your focus and attention to conversations without getting distracted. During conversations, we often get distracted by the environment, other conversations that may be going on in the background, or by thinking about what we are going to say next. By bringing our attention back to the conversation when our minds begin to wander, we can strengthen our attention muscle, improve our conversational skills, and have more interesting, engaging conversations. It will also help us to connect with others and build stronger, deeper relationships.

  • Get Creative - participating in creative pursuits, especially if you are learning new skills, can also help to grow your attention muscle. Taking up a new creative hobby such as drawing or playing a musical instrument really helps to take your focus and attention levels up a notch. I decided to give Modern Calligraphy a go a while back (I have to admit I haven’t kept up with this but I really want to! - New Years Resolution - maybe?) and found it to be a very mindful activity which vastly improved my focus and concentration levels. I found it particularly challenging when I first began as it was completely new to me, but this helped to build my attention muscle even more so.

Building your attention muscle is one of the most valuable exercises you can work on. It will not only help you work more deliberately and with intention, but the benefits it will have on your productivity level will mean that you can accomplish so much more.

Can you think of any other ways to build your attention muscle?

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