Attention Training: Learning Single-Minded Focus
We need to learn to train our attention because, as with anything, attention is like a muscle.
Maria Konnikova is the New York Times bestselling author of The Confidence Game (Viking/Penguin 2016) and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Viking/Penguin, 2013). She is a contributing writer for The New Yorker, where she writes a regular column with a focus on psychology and culture, and her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, California Sunday, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, WIRED, and The Smithsonian, among numerous other publications. Maria is a recipient of the 2015 Harvard Medical School Media Fellowship, and is a Schachter Writing Fellow at Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center. She formerly wrote the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American and the popular psychology blog “Artful Choice” for Big Think. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where she studied psychology, creative writing, and government, and received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University.
I think that technology is wonderful and that we just need to be aware of how much of a pull it exerts on us and how difficult that can be to avoid. We need to learn to train our attention because, as with anything, attention is like a muscle. It's an analogy that you hear over and over in psychology - self-control is like a muscle.
If you train it, it gets stronger, it gets better. You are able to lift more weight. We have more endurance. And similarly with attention, the more you train yourself to uni-task and to only pay attention to one thing at a time, the longer and longer and longer you’re able to maintain your focus.
So what’s happening when people say that they can’t pay attention is that they haven’t trained their attention. They’ve forgotten what it is to have a single-minded focus. And because they haven’t trained it their attention actually has gotten worse.
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