Do You Have the Attention Span of a Goldfish?

Updated: Jul 22, 2018


Statistically speaking, yes. Actually, it’s worse.

The backstory:

In 2000, a study was conducted that measured the attention span of the average human. It was discovered that a typical person could only focus on a specific activity for a measly 12 seconds before distraction set in.

As if that wasn't bad enough, when the study was replicated in 2015, the results revealed that the median attention span had dropped to just 8 seconds. That’s over a 30 percent deficit ... and a second less than a goldfish.

Did you get that? Or were you thinking about Nutella again? Keep it together, people.

It should come as no surprise what’s behind our crashing concentration. Too much screen time and digital tech.

Phones, laptops, tablets, Netflix, Fitbits, PlayStation, Xbox and that eternally creepy Google Home do detrimental damage not just to our mindfulness, but our minds. Researchers have shown for years that excess screen time will often atrophy the frontal lobe - the part of the brain where impulse control is regulated.

Equally worse, our emotional output can be severely compromised. The insula, the area of the brain responsible for promoting empathy and compassion, is degraded in screen addicts.

So, what can you do to win back your mindfulness? Assuming a move to Tibet is out of the question, I suggest doing these three things:

Stop looking at your phone unless it’s ringing or dinging

Collectively, Americans look at their phones roughly 8 billion times a day. That's about 50 times per person (one study put millennials at 150 times a day.)

Most of the checking is because we’ve become wired to look at our phones obsessively, the same way I imagine Melania looks for an escape tunnel in the Lincoln bedroom.

An easy way to reduce this nasty habit is to flip your phone over and keep it at least five feet away from you. Not only will you be less tempted to touch it, you'll be less able to reach it - a perfect combo for winning back impulse control.

Also, shut off any notifications that aren’t critical. Do you really need to be dinged during your baby’s first steps to find out that "Meghan Markle's go-to comfy heel designer also makes the perfect white sneaker!"?

Leave your phone at home as much as possible

I went there, friends. I just suggested a reality in which you leave the house free of digital life support.

Yes, this could get dicey. Imagine being subjected to an invigorating stroll in the park without immediate access to Fortnite. Or sitting across from your lover at a romantic cafe without a robocall from The International House of Linoleum.

Being without your phone is not only necessary, but liberating. When your husband leaves for a 3-day golf tournament, you pop open the pinot. Yet, two minutes without your Android and you're bellowing "Parting is such sweet sorrow!" from the mailbox.

It's not a breakup. It's a break. Embrace it. You might even enjoy it.

Only have one digital device on at a time

Seventy percent of us watch multiple screens at once which is a big no-no for improving concentration. This means stick to one screen.

The math here is uncomplicated. If you’re watching TV, keep your phone in another room. If you’re on your phone, shut off the TV. If you’re sending a fax while watching The Goonies on VHS, you're amazing!

So, best wishes on your journey back to mindfulness. Are you still there? Or did I lose you when I mentioned Nutella?


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