Jay Rifenbary

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The Attack On Attention Span

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How vulnerable are you to distractions? Are you better able to focus on the priorities of your day today than you were five years ago? As technological advancement continues to evolve are your listening skills and those of your children improving? According to Wikipedia, “Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals.” There is little doubt that an attack on the ability to pay attention is occurring. By all accounts and research the average attention span for young and old alike, particularly over the past decade, has significantly decreased. This is attributed to the technological expansion of external stimulation and distraction. The addictive need to check your smart phone, email, text, post on Facebook, Tweet what you had to eat, be entertained, and get to the next level of that video game are examples of both stimulation and distraction.

This also adds to the perceived necessity to do things quickly as you believe you have less time to be able to pay attention, because of the next upcoming stimulation or distraction. To feel you have to rush through housework, homework, lifework, and job related work all within minutes provides a minimal quality of life. Even with all this multi-tasking are you closer to your goals then you were this morning? Could you have made greater progress if you gave greater attention to a couple of important tasks, than a plethora of meaningless ones? How many of the tasks you do support and develop your core values for a successful future? Do you even know what values are important to you, and if so have you been focused and attentive to live those values? Without an understanding of what you stand for and believe in, the more susceptible you are to being distracted and inattentive because you do not know what is most important in your life. The ability to multi-task is an exceptional skill, but not at the expense of thorough thought, proper planning, efficient execution, thoughtfulness toward others and purposeful achievement.

The ability to pay attention and focus on a singular goal is critical to the accomplishment of that goal. For example, how many Olympians, chief executives, engineers, doctors, sales professionals, actors, musicians, artists, students, and parents succeed when they lose focus or become inattentive? From a value perspective, what occurs when you lose focus on what is truly important, and are distracted by fun, frolic, and deviant temptations? Heartache, misery and despair always follow. As Steve Jobs so simply said, “Focusing is about saying No.”

In addition, the belief that our youth need to be constantly entertained in order for them to learn is only adding to a growing inability to focus, pay attention and listen effectively. Why? What happens when they are no longer being entertained? The inability to be attentive will also add to more shallowness in regard to human relationships as the decade’s progress. Part of the human experience is the ability to genuinely and deeply feel for another. That cannot happen if you cannot focus and pay attention to the other person. It also hinders your ability to be empathetic and respectful of another, because you are less likely to listen and be attentive to the needs and thoughts of others.

A scattered brain behavior also undermines the fundamental courtesies of human interaction. Manners, etiquette and thoughtfulness are all negatively impacted. I may be older, but how many of you cringe when a child is ill mannered toward an adult, parent or grandparent because their smart phone is more important? Parents who believe that this behavior is insignificant might want to reevaluate their own value system in regard to what makes a socially respectful society. It is essential for all who believe in the depth of humanity and the spirit within all of us to make a concerted effort to be an example, a teacher, and a leader as it relates to the ability to focus, listen and be attentive. It will not only enhance the development of a more learned and accomplished society, but a more humane one as well.



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