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Thursday, January 27, 2022

How to Test (and Increase) Your Attention Span

Photo: Andrii Zastrozhnov (Shutterstock)

We’ll keep this brief.

Over the past few years, you’ve likely seen at least one article claiming that humans’ attention spans are shrinking, to the point where even goldfish are more focused than we are.

And though a 2017 BBC article took the time to comb through the statistics and their sources that produced this figure, calling into question its validity, many people openly describe themselves as having a short attention span. Some even refer to having or “being” ADHD (referring to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as though it was an annoying habit, instead of a serious clinical diagnosis.

So how do you know if you really do have an unusually short attention span? And what can you do to improve yours? Here’s what to know.

How to tell if you have a short attention spanJust to reiterate: The terms “short attention span” and “ADHD” are not interchangeable. If you are concerned that you may have ADHD (a clinical condition), it’s something to discuss with your healthcare provider.

If you’re curious about the approximate length of your attention span, however, there are some online assessments you can take, including this one from Psychology Today, or this concentration test from MentalUp. To be clear, these are not diagnostic tests, but may be helpful to some people who are looking to identify areas they might want to work on.

How to increase your attention spanThere’s no quick-fix for improving your attention span, but here are a few strategies that may help:

Mindfulness exercisesIf you’re new to mindfulness, there’s no need to jump right in and attempt to do it as a regular practice—start with some basic exercises, like the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. The point of this, and other grounding exercises, is to pay attention to your surroundings, taking the time to notice what’s around you. Not only could this help with anxiety, but it may also train your brain to be more attentive.

Engage in active listeningIn case you’re not familiar with the term, “active listening” is making a conscious effort not only to hear what another person is saying, but to take the time and mental energy to listen to and process it as well. Similar to mindfulness, the point of active listening is to become more attentive.

Take breaksThis may sound counterintuitive—especially if it feels like you’re already taking a lot of mental breaks when you’re unable to focus on something—but giving yourself an actual, intentional break can make a huge difference. And when we say “break,” we mean standing up and relocating for five to 10 minutes.

You can use this time to go to the restroom, get more water or a snack, stretch, pop outside for a few minutes—whatever feels best to you. Because you’ve mentally approved this break, you can enjoy all the attention-boosting benefits without the guilt you may feel when you “accidentally” start scrolling through Instagram or online shopping when you’re supposed to be working.

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