Being able to regulate our attention is necessary to reach our goals. Did you know it is also vital to our health and well being? But in this age of digital distraction, paying attention to one thing for an extended period of time has become a difficult skill to master.
In Lucy Jo Palladino’s book, Find Your Focus Zone, she says that “electronic stimulation is changing the way we pay attention.”
With our computers, I phones, I pads, televisions with remote controls, and now even the possibility of having eyeglasses and watches with internet connection, we’re constantly being asked to look at a lot of things quickly, and to switch our focus from one thing to another.
When we engage in these kinds of stimulating activities, dopamine, an activating brain chemical in the adrenaline family, gives us ‘jolts’ of excitement.
This can be pleasurable, but having these continual spurts of excitement can also affect the prefrontal lobe of our brain in damaging ways.
The prefrontal lobe is called the CEO of the brain. It is the place from where the executive functions are carried out: paying attention, making plans, creating structures, thinking logically.
Too much screen time and multitasking weakens the pathways in this area of the brain. The good news is our brains have plasticity, the ability to change, according to what we think, feel, and do.
Sustained attention is what ‘sculpts’ the brain over time.
In order to keep our brains working well, we need to take care of and protect the brain pathways.
When we find ways to generate serotonin, the brain chemical that gives us a sense of well-being, we can take back our power to focus and sustain attention.
Some ways to generate serotonin are:
*Spend quiet time in nature.
*Connect with someone you love.
These activities cause our prefrontal lobe to thicken and help us to sustain attention, make better decisions, and help us stay resilient and resistant to stress.
Palladino says that in one study, MRIs showed that prefrontal lobes were thicker in 20 adults who meditated routinely than in comparable controls. The people in this study meditated for about 40 minutes a day.
Perhaps 40 minutes seems like a lot. But 40 minutes of some kind of relaxed, sustained attention every day is the minimum amount of time we need in order to balance out the frenzy of our lives.
Why not begin with 10 minutes?
The next time you feel over-stimulated and distracted, take a ‘power break.’
Get away from the computer screen and:
*Listen to calming music.
*Drink something warm and soothing.
*Tense and relax your muscles, or do a few stretches.
*If possible, get outside into nature for a few moments.
Here are some brief, guided meditations.
“The shorter way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.”