We all know the modern dilemma; we have more opportunities and options than ever before. Our desires are available in the thousands and are literally one click away. Whatever we want, we can find it on Amazon and have it delivered to us the next day. It’s easy. It’s exciting. And it’s also taxing our attention spans to a detrimental level. (They call it paying attention for a reason!)
We’re starting to see that our convenient way of “having it all” is not actually supporting us in the brain function department. We like to pretend that we are master multi-taskers and that having more (or more on our plate) means we are More Valuable Players, but a 2009 Stanford study found that multi-taskers performed, on all accounts, worse than those with a single focus when given attention, memory, and other cognitive tasks. The conclusion? “[Multi-taskers] are suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.” 1
Our culture has conditioned our attention span to last merely seconds (maybe only one!) before we see something else that attracts us. When practically everything in our environment is calling for our attention, our ability to focus is at an all-time low.
The evolutionary drive for focus is one we all know: Man hunts tiger. Man better be focused or tiger will eat man. Despite the old fashioned context, the ability to focus is still relevant in our current day. We need focus to build on an idea or conversation. We need focus to complete a project successfully. We even need focus to save the life of another human being. These desires are not the ones that you can get with your Amazon Prime account. Sometimes, we need to stay quiet, listen, and find the next piece of our puzzle from inside of ourselves.
Lack of focus is a #vataproblem. The master of mobility and skimming the surface, vata loves a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But as the Ayurvedic maxim goes, “like increases like.” Our natural ability to “take it all in at once” is compounded by the multitude of attention grabbers out there, and eventually, it becomes too much for us to bear. We can’t regulate our input of information. Instead, a bit of this and that soon becomes a bit of this and that, and this, oh and that, ooh and this, this and that.
Vata problems are best treated in vata manners. In the video clip above, Dr. Svoboda suggests administering a small amount of medicine, frequently. Remember how vata likes a little bit at a time? With each small dose, the body becomes familiar with the medicine. As it begins to have an effect, the body will start to organize its energy toward health and an expression of harmony.
Strengthening our ability to focus is not something that many adults have the occasion to do in their day-to-day lives. Aside from our years in education and schooling (and perhaps not even then!), no one is teaching us how to do this. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late for you to regain control of your attention. Here’s how you can do it on your own: practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment. The beauty of this practice is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, because all you have to do is simply bring your focus to the present moment. Imagine eating lunch in a café and you overhear the couple at the table next to you sharing juicy town gossip. Interesting, yes, but probably not relevant to you. Mentally leave their conversation and recommit to your present moment. Pick up your sandwich. What does it feel like in your hands? Enjoy the color of your plate. Take a bite and feel each movement and texture in your mouth. You are spending this time focused solely on your awareness of the present moment, on what is right in front of you.
Dr. Svoboda recommends starting with just ten seconds of mindfulness practice, as often as you can. If even that is too long, one second is a great start, too. Distracted? Come back to your present experience. You did it!
Mindfulness practice is a strengthening practice. It’s like weightlifting for your brain. Each time you pay attention to what’s happening in front of you and not on what is distracting you, you’re giving yourself that dose of vata medicine. Eventually, you’ll be lifting stronger weights—supporting your own attention span for longer and longer periods of time. And while you may be missing out on the flashiest new thoughts or the latest town gossip, you’ll be feeling calmer, more mentally collected, and more in control of your own experience.
1 Npr.org: Think You're Multitasking? Think Again. 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794