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7 Ways to Dramatically Improve Your Attention Span

By Debbie Mandel

Technology overload has led to multi-tasking which has given most of us a micro-attention span – even doctors. Have I got your attention now? It’s time to slow down and focus with true intention in order to restore the balance between moving forward and losing the lessons of the past. Besides you will reap another great benefit: You will lower your stress levels.

Holly Finn’s “How to End the Age of Inattention” in the Wall Street Journal describes Yale University’s art course for first-year med students. These med students have to take a museum course to learn to look at paintings closely, cultivating an eye for the details. The class isn’t about art appreciation, but rather standing back and studying an artwork from different perspectives – what do you see after first glance, second glance and third glance? The hope is to make doctors better diagnosticians by really observing a patient and not just reading his laboratory markers. Medicine is not only a science, but an art as well. A patient’s life might be riding on a hunch – just watch a House rerun.

If it’s good enough training for Yale med students, well you can see the analogy to your own activities of daily living. What is being compromised because you are easily distracted and have lost the power of a laser- like focus? Do you find it harder to concentrate when you read? Do you find that you are more accident prone? Are there more misunderstandings and conflicts in your relationships? Do you feel an undercurrent of stress most of the time? Do even you know what you are missing?

7 ways to dramatically improve your focus:
  1. Schedule daily quiet time in a technology free zone. Begin with ten minutes. Choose an object, a passage, a photograph, a plant or look out the window where you observe closely without interruption. Don’t look at a screen saver!
  2. Use a pen and paper to brainstorm once a week for fifteen minutes about a personal or social goal. Do you notice at the end of fifteen minutes that your last descriptions or thoughts have greater depth and are more surprising?
  3. Choose a meal where you sit down and slowly savor each bite – try using chop sticks to eat. I bet you will lose weight and improve digestion.
  4. Visit the museum and study an art work. What do you notice when you first look at the painting or sculpture? What do you perceive after paying closer attention?
  5. Take a walk in the park. Study tree architecture, a flower, a pond, a bird, a dog, or a person. A Zen master once said, “All enlightenment is contained in a flower.” You will feel more alive and alert, becoming aware of your surroundings.
  6. When you speak with someone whether on the phone or face to face, give this person your full attention. You will get into relationship rhythm.
  7. Close your eyes at night and sleep! Lack of sleep plays havoc with your ability to concentrate.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: