“I’ve got the attention span of a gnat these days. I just can’t seem to focus anymore. What can I do?” writes HealthierTalk.com reader Liz.
Liz, I have the same problem! And I have good news for both of us. Research has uncovered an old… ancient, really… solution for our problem: meditation.
Now, I know the idea of meditation probably brings to mind incense, chanting, and monks in robes. But while meditation has been practiced in some religious settings for thousands of years, the process itself is not rooted in any kind of mysticism or specific religion.
Meditation is simply learning to be both relaxed and aware at the same time.
Meditation can be used to improve attention span
Several experiments have demonstrated that the practice of meditation can be a powerful tool to improve attention span, and your ability to grasp details.
Researchers sent a group of volunteers on a three-month retreat to learn meditation techniques from an expert. At three points during the three months, the participants took computerized tests designed to measure how well they were able to
- identify small visual distinctions
- sustain their attention spans
The participants got significantly better at the task as their training went on. They improved their ability to make fine visual distinctions, and were able to do the tasks well over longer periods of time. In other words they had improved their attention span.
Meditation produces long-lasting memory results
And the improvements lasted for five months after they returned from the retreat.
Now, if you’re anything like me, going away on a three-month meditation retreat probably sounds both really appealing and incredibly unrealistic. So how can you make these findings work for you?
You might be surprised to learn that basic meditation can be boiled down to four simple elements:
Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for at least 15 minutes. Get into a comfortable sitting position, and relax.
Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
As your breathing settles into a slow steady pattern, focus on it. Be aware of each breath in and each breath out. If your mind wanders, simply refocus. Over time, you will be able to focus for longer periods.
When you’re ready, open your eyes, get up slowly, and stretch if you need to.
There are free apps for your smartphone that can help teach you to meditate, and keep you on track. Plus there are plenty of free instructional videos on YouTube if you want to have someone walk you through getting started with meditation to increase your attention span.
Not interested in meditation?
Remember that I said earlier that the “secret” of meditation is being both relaxed and aware at the same time. So any regular practice that helps you achieve this—such as progressive relaxation or deep-breathing exercises—can give you some of the same benefits.
Click here to view a video demonstrating three deep breathing exercises you can try right away. And then join me in focusing on breathing in and breathing out.