May 22, 2021

How to increase attention span?

In my previous post, we discussed the need to measure our attention span instead of relying on averages concluded by popular media. Do try out the proposed exercise in that post for a week and gather your observations.

In this post, let me share with you 5 strategies by which you can increase your attention span. Tried and tested by yours truly🙂

(1) Avoid multitasking - yes. Stop doing more than one task at once. Going for a walk? Enjoy the walk. Don't try to optimize that time by listening to an audiobook/podcast. When we stop multitasking, we are focused on that single task we are engaged in. This increases our ability to stay mindful for a longer duration.

(2) Avoid frequent context switching - this is an extension to the first strategy, but deserves a separate point, given the amount of information we consume across multiple sources. Reduce the number of people whom you follow on social media. Identify 2-3 topics you are interested in and follow people who share content on these categories. For eg, I have fixed the max number of people whom I follow on Instagram to be 60. The topics I focus on are food/nutrition, Ayurveda and lifestyle that inspires me.

(3) Invest time in activities that put you in a state of FLOW - a state where you are so engaged in an activity that you don't feel the need to reach for distractions. For me, reading, writing, cooking, and public speaking are activities that give me the experience of being in FLOW. I make sure that I invest enough time every week in these activities.

(4) Consciously engage in activities that require more time and focus. A few examples 

    • Read long-form articles - Do you easily get put off when an article is lengthy? Do you bookmark it for later reference but don't come back to it? If yes, then I'd highly recommend you invest time every week in reading articles that require at least 10 minutes of dedicated time.
    • Watch videos at normal speed - This might be a counter-intuitive idea, but hear me out. Many of us like to watch videos at 1.5x speed to grab more information in less time. Some even watch at 2X speed where one could hardly hear the words being spoken, let alone understand the content. Our attention becomes jittery to the point where we might even experience anxiety. By watching at normal speed, we end up seeing fewer videos. We also signal to our mind that the information is important and it requires focus.
    • Practice active listening - When someone is having a conversation with you, give your complete attention and listen without interrupting or fidgeting with your phone. I had written a detailed article a few years back on the benefits of listening. 

(5) Incorporate "Do Nothing" moments - Our attention gets fragmented when we are busy throughout the day. Consciously taking the time to do nothing, even if it is just for a few minutes in a day is so helpful to realign and focus on fewer priorities. A few minutes of stillness can give us momentum for the rest of the day.

A bonus strategy from the point of distractions - remove apps from your phone that give variable rewards. I had written about this earlier. This strategy converts distraction-inducing smartphones to just another tool we use to get things done. 

I hope you found these pointers helpful. As I had mentioned earlier, attention is our MOST VALUABLE asset. Let's protect it with utmost care.

May 20, 2021

Measure your attention span

 We often keep hearing about how the attention span of humans is dwindling. Popular research articles declare that the average attention span of humans is now 8 seconds and we are lagging behind the goldfish (9 seconds apparently). 

Instead of arguing over whether such studies and conclusions are valid and accurate, let's do a personal exercise.

On a normal day, how long are you able to sit with a task at hand? 

Let's say, you are reading a book. How long can you read without getting distracted by your phone or other temptations?

You are cooking lunch. How long can you focus on this task without picking up your phone?

When you are engaged at work, putting together a presentation/document, how long can you focus on this task without checking email/Slack/instant messaging/social media, etc?

I'd highly encourage you to do this experiment for a week and note down the times you have been able to focus on various tasks. 

You could refer to this sample template to track:

Let's not judge or criticize ourselves if the results aren't what we wanted them to be. The first step to change is becoming aware. 

All of us have experienced a state of distractions and an inability to focus from time to time. But is this becoming a norm rather than an exception? The above exercise will help us understand our patterns.

It is also interesting that once we start becoming conscious and self-aware, we tend to focus better.

In my next post, I'll be sharing 5 strategies that have helped me increase my attention span.

Related articles:

Win back your attention and focus

May 19, 2021

How to navigate the content maze?

 Thanks to the Information age we are currently living in, we consume humongous amounts of content every single day through multiple sources - books, social media posts, podcasts, videos, webinars, conferences, workshops, courses, and much more.

Irrespective of the source, we can group the content (across various topics/genres) into 3 broad categories. Since I create a lot of food-related content, let me elaborate on these 3 categories using examples from food.

  1. Information - Mostly facts, either verified or unverified. For eg, nutrition profile of millets, recipes using millets, where to procure them => a few examples of content that fall under this category
  2. Perspectives - An individual's analysis / understanding / experience / interpretation of a concept / topic. For eg, I write about how consuming millets have helped me in reversing my PCOD. This is my perspective and may / may not apply to everyone. 
  3. Implementation - An individual's approach / action / next steps towards a particular problem / objective / challenge. For eg, I share about how I have incorporated millets in my weekly meal plan - I plan and consume millets 3-4 times a week in the form of idli, dosa, pongal, etc. This may or may not apply to everyone.

My general observation is that Information focused content doesn't motivate us to take action as we don't connect to such content at a deeper level. We might save or bookmark them for future reference.

More than Information, we tend to connect with content that belongs to either Perspectives or Implementation. 

Perspectives help us learn from other's experiences and interpretations. Some perspectives can be inspiring and elevating. Sometimes, they help us see a situation through a different lens. When our perspectives match with that of the content creator, we feel a good vibe and we want to hear more from him/her. But let's also keep the caveat in mind - perspectives are influenced by multiple factors, sometimes these could be biased by his/her past experiences and conditioning. A perspective may be the TRUTH for him/her, but it isn't the TRUTH for everyone else. 

Implementation-focused content gives us nice little tips, tricks, and ideas to work on an idea. They can motivate us to take action and proceed in a certain direction. It also gives us the confidence that a certain way of implementation works for this person and so it should work for us as well. But, there is a caveat here as well. The implementation approach is completely dependent on the individual's situation - family, environment, context, his/her strengths, support system, etc. What works for someone may or may not work for everyone else. 

The next time when you consume a piece of content (from any source), ask yourself - "Which of the 3 categories does this content belong to?"

If it belongs to either Perspectives or Implementation, do your due diligence, analyze if it makes sense for you, your family, and your current situation before adopting it right away.

Many times, we take someone's perspectives and implementation as the ultimate truth, try to incorporate it into our lives, fail miserably, and feel disappointed. 

Perspectives are abundant in the content maze we live in today. What will change your life is YOUR perspective of looking at life. 

P.S. Take a guess which category this particular post belongs to :-)

May 18, 2021

The Most Valuable Resource

What's the most valuable resource that all of us have been bestowed with? 

For many years, I had thought of TIME to be the most valuable resource. All of us have the same 24 hours in a day. How we use this time determines the quality of our life.

As I pondered more on this question, I have concluded that more than time, our attention is the most valuable resource.

Attention implies all that is within our awareness at this very moment. 

Our attention can be captured by our thoughts, taking us on a time machine ride

  • to the past - triggering nostalgia, good memories, regrets, bad decisions, remorse
  • to the future - triggering worries, anxiety, uncertainty

Attention can also be captured by external factors

  • through the content we consume - social media, OTT, Youtube, news channels, etc
  • through people whom we interact with
  • through objects in our vicinity

Let's consider this situation - It is a beautiful morning. You have woken up early and have gone for a walk. 

What are the things do you notice around? 

What do you pay attention to?

Where do you pay attention to?

Whom do you pay attention to?

Do you go on a time machine ride through the vehicle of thoughts?

If so, are you traveling more to the past or the future?

What we pay attention to influences our thoughts and actions in the short run. Over time, what we pay attention to influences our behaviors and our beliefs as well. 

If attention plays such a vital role in our lives, shouldn't we protect it with utmost care? 

We spend a hefty annual fee on our bank locker to keep our valuables like jewelry and documents safe. Would we hand over the key to this locker to anyone so casually?

But we do tend to hand over the keys to our attention to so many factors every day without giving much a thought - every time we pick up our phone, every time we scroll through social media without any intent, every clickbaity video link we open, etc.

Let's give our ATTENTION at least the same respect and care (deserves even more) we give towards our bank locker. 

Let's give authorized access to our attention to anyone and anything that demands access. It just takes a second of awareness to ask ourselves this question - is it worthy of my attention?

May 14, 2021

In defense of reading

 This post has been lying in my drafts for over a year now. Finally wrapped it up as this is something I want to convey.

Do you love reading? Does your child love to read? 

If yes, continue this powerful habit, even if you hear otherwise.

If no, that is perfectly okay too. There are various other ways by which we can learn and understand the world.

I belong to the first category. I love to read, so is my 9-year old daughter. Our conversations at home are mostly triggered by books. 

There are multiple reasons why people read.

Some enjoy reading as an activity per se. They read for pleasure - just the process of reading a moving prose or poetry that paints a beautiful picture is such an elevating experience in itself. From the magical world of Harry Potter, certain lines of Dumbledore are stuck to my mind for eternity.

"Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it."

Reading helps you visualize and create mental images. I agree with the argument that real-life experiences are more valuable but not everyone has the resources (time, money, effort) to experience all that there is to experience in a single lifetime. For eg, I'd love to visit Mussoorie to experience the pine forests that Ruskin Bond so beautifully explains in his books, but I'm more than content, for now, reading his prose that paints vivid imagery of the flora and fauna of the hills.

Books can be a perfect companion, especially in the present lockdown times where you can be transported to a different place in minutes. Books take us down on a journey through various cultures, timelines, and situations. 

Reading puts you in a state of flow and helps to increase focus and concentration. Reading by itself can be a meditative activity. 

As you can see, the purpose of reading is not only about gathering information. 

I came across another argument that reading increases our EGO and that people who read a lot have more EGO. I respectfully disagree with this generalization. I know many people who read a lot and are so down-to-earth. I also know people who don't read books but have quite a big ego. 

Being an avid reader, what I have experienced is that books have made me more humble. Every time I read an inspiring book with thought-provoking ideas, it just makes me feel awed and reinforces the idea "katradhu kaimann alavu, kallaadhadhu ulagalavu" (What I know is a drop, what I don't know is an ocean).

Any action we do can boost our ego if we allow it to do so. Reading, writing, teaching, sharing, learning, content creation on social media - any action for that matter. 

Our ego can also be boosted by the information we receive, regardless of the source of the information - books being one of the sources. Getting a lot of information from people can also boost our ego. It isn't dependent on the source, but rather how WE perceive ourselves based on the information gathered.

The other argument often heard is that the application/implementation of what we have learned is more important than gathering knowledge. Yes, there is a lot of merit to this argument. But I see it from a different angle. When you read a book with a lot of ideas, it isn't possible to implement all that's been shared. From the 100 odd ideas, picking the 10 key takeaways that are relevant to your situation and life is in itself a skill. This cannot happen if we just skim through a book. Deep reading is essential to distill those crucial ideas relevant to us. 

Another argument against reading is that books are written from an author's perspective, his/her context based on his/her problems and the solutions he/she has figured out. I don't see this as an issue at all. When we have conversations with people, aren't they too sharing their perspectives, their context, their problems, and solutions? Yes, the body language, voice modulation and tones used do make a difference and we can learn more from such cues.

But not many of us have one-on-one direct access to people from whom we can learn from. Access to people might seem easy in the current social media age but not applicable for all. Opening up to people and strangers doesn't come naturally to everyone. Suppose, a person whom we admire sits in front of us. The ensuing conversation completely depends on the kind of questions we ask this person. If we feel shy or too conscious, we may not be forthcoming with our questions. If their body language isn't friendly enough, we might not want to intrude on them with our "silly" questions. But when it comes to books, the author anticipates the questions a reader might have while reading a particular chapter or concept. The author might be willing to elaborate the concept with his/her personal experiences that one can resonate with. Many times, I have felt an author talking directly to me, the questions that came to my mind getting addressed in the subsequent chapters. 

There are multiple sources of learning - books, podcasts, articles, videos, courses, in-person conversations. Choose the ones that work for you based on your personality and convenience. No one source is superior or inferior to another.

May 13, 2021

The space crunch

 A particular situation comes to our life to teach us a lesson. If we don't reflect on the situation and learn the lesson it intends to teach us the first time, the situation repeats in 2X magnitude to make sure we learn the lesson. 

In the past year or so, this is what I have observed from my life. A situation literally increased in magnitude from 1X to 2X to now 4X. I don't want to get into the specifics but I'm glad to share that I have indeed learned my lesson. And that is what I wanted to talk about in this post.

I had been desiring for a perfect space for myself in my home - a room or even a cozy nook which is accessible to me 24*7, where I can keep my things, where I can focus and do deep work, where I can practice Yoga, meditate or journal without getting disturbed. 

Ever since Mar 2020, this desire has been eluding me so much. The harder I tried, the more difficult it kept getting. 

I realized that I have been using this "lack of space" as an excuse. As I complained about situations beyond my control, more and more such situations kept on coming. 

I'm presently writing this article sitting on my bed, while D is loudly singing "Do you wanna build a snowman" next to me, a pile of washed clothes waiting to be folded, a stash of books waiting to be put back in their respective places and the sound of drums practiced by a neighbour's son.

Yes, it would be ideal to sit in a quiet, locked room and jot down my thoughts. But I need to accept that such ideal scenarios aren't gonna come by so easily, given the current situation. And that shouldn't stop me from doing the things I want to do. 

"Where there is a will, there is a way" - if the willingness to do what I want to do is strong enough, then space (or lack of) shouldn't be of much concern. If I'm finding excuses to avoid the work I want to do, then I need to question the intent behind the work and the lack of willingness to make progress.

Blog Archive

All contents copyrighted by Anuradha Sridharan, 2023. Don't copy without giving credits. Powered by Blogger.