What Are the Psychological and Environmental Forces Sabotaging Your Effort to Focus?
Manage your attention by identifying psychological and environmental forces that sabotage your focus.
Big Think Edge is a video-driven platform that catalyzes happiness and performance in professional environments by cultivating leadership, creativity, and self-knowledge. Learn more about Big Think Edge.
Now that you’ve identified your productivity style, it’s time to widen the scope of your attention because learning how to manage your attention starts with identifying the psychological and environmental forces that actively work to sabotage your efforts to focus and manage it.
I want you to think about the last time that you bought or leased a new car. Maybe you did some research on the type of car you wanted; maybe then you went to the dealership and test drove the car you thought you wanted and maybe a few others.
You decided on the car you wanted, and then, after negotiations with the car salesperson, you purchased your car. Excitedly, you drove off the lot in your brand-new car. Now, you see your car everywhere. It’s on the road driving next to you; it’s in the parking lot at the grocery store and in the parking lot at work. What happened? Did everyone suddenly go buy your car?
No, I don’t think so. What happened is that you shifted your attention, and now you’re focused on that make and model of car, so you’re seeing your car everywhere. So the question to ask yourself is this: On a daily basis, what is managing my attention? These include:
Intense emotion. The brain’s wiring lends itself to being distracted. The part of the brain devoted to attention is connected to the brain’s emotional center. So any strong emotion — frustration with a colleague, problems with your teenager — can disrupt your attention.
Physical discomfort. You are also more vulnerable to distractions when you are uncomfortable, hungry, or tired.
Psychological insecurity. Author Tony Schwarz notes that our responsiveness to distractions is powerfully influenced by our desire for connection. Thus, the safer and more secure we feel, the more focused attention we can allocate to our long-term goals.
In order to manage our attention, we must work with nature and with the innate tendencies of our brain to respond to forces like emotion, discomfort, and insecurity, rather than trying to struggle against these psychological and physical drives.
So, what can you do to harness the finite nature of your attention?
Cultivate awareness. Learning to do this begins with the attention-awareness exercise. Select a span of a few hours as your tracking period for the exercise. Select a tracking tool that works for you and then every time your attention wanders or you lose focus, make a note on your attention-tracking tool. Now, I know that this exercise is diverting your attention; however, you have to notice what is causing your attention to wander before you can do something about it.
Identify your attention saboteurs.
Do you find it more difficult to focus right before lunchtime or dinnertime?
Was it difficult to focus after a long meeting or a difficult conversation with a family member?
Was it easier to focus after a walk or a workout at the gym?
Were there specific projects or types of tasks that you were able to focus on for longer periods of time?
Being aware of your attention saboteurs puts you back in the driver’s seat where you are no longer hostage to the finite and fleeting nature of your attention.
Today, the interconnectedness of office life can be overwhelming. We have to resist the tendency to treat our overwhelming schedules like badges of honor, says Carson Tate.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.
In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.
Image from the study.
As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.
Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.
"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.
It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.
Image by authors of the study.
Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.
The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.
“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."
Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.