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The War on Our Attention

Our attention span under siege. It’s an all-out war and we are losing, badly.

It is estimated we are exposed to 362 advertisements per day, all screaming out at us to be noticed. If you include brand exposures that number jumps up to 5,000. Add in that we check our phones an average of 80 times a day (or once every 12 minutes). And how many tabs do you have open at the moment on your computer? Yeah, we’re in trouble.

Let us not forget about our own internal distractions, or what Dr. Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine that specializes in attention, calls “self-interruptions”. You know, those thoughts that pop into your head while you’re working on something like “I should really check amazon for some new headphones” or “it looks like it’s going to rain, I should check the weather”. Then, before you know it you’re venturing down a rabbit hole to not only check the weather but also to research fun things to do over the weekend, text your friend about it, and scroll through Instagram. Now, you return to what you were doing, having lost twenty minutes and facing the challenge of re-entering that focused state you were previously in.

Research by Dr. Mark has found that on average, it takes 23 minutes to re-engage on the task you were working on before getting distracted. The enemies are winning, we need to fight back.

As an athlete, your ability to focus on the right thing at the right time is paramount. Focusing on how nervous and anxious you are over a chip shot or focusing on how you just struck out as a ground ball comes towards you, typically does not end well. In those instances, your emotions and your thoughts are distractions, taking you away from what you need to be focused on.

At this point you may be asking with all of these distractions, how do we fight back? How can we train our brains to become more disciplined and not instantly jump from one shiny object to the next?

1) Meditation

Meditation provides a respite from the war on your attention span. It is a space to regroup and recharge before enduring another onslaught of stimuli. It is a training ground for learning how to stay focused and not engage with the shiny objects. Try this simple drill: close your eyes and take deep breaths. Count each inhale and exhale, staying completely locked in on nothing but your breath. The moment you get distracted start over. Work on improving that number. Congratulations, you just meditated and got in some mental training reps.

2) Know your attentional style

We all have a specific type of attention that we default to, either internal (tend to grapple onto our thoughts or emotions) or external (the things you see, hear, feel). When you become nervous or under pressure, what do you do? Do you dive deep into your own head or do you become chatty and fidgety? This could be an indication that you have a more internal attentional style (former) or external attentional style (latter). Knowing your style can help you predict the distractions you are prone to and develop strategies for re-focusing.

3) WIN

What’s Important Now. When you become distracted ask yourself “what’s important now”. Maybe it is the distraction (not all distractions are bad) or maybe it is what you were working on. Reminding yourself about what is important can be a good way to stop thinking about what you're going to eat after practice and focus on what is in front of you.

At the end of the day we are going to get distracted; it is inevitable. The trick is, how quickly can you notice that you became distracted and how quickly can you re-engage in what you were doing? It is all about ensuring you are staying focused on the present moment. It's about being where your feet are.

Each time you resist the temptation of the distraction, allowing that urge to pass you've completed a mental rep. Or, each time you quickly notice you’ve become distracted and re-focus, you’ve completed a mental rep. The more reps you can get throughout the day, the more you will be able to stay locked in on what really matters, when it really matters.

Reach out to me today to learn more about these strategies and others for improving your focus and attention and learning to use your mind to your advantage.

Let's get to work.

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