Scientists have listed a number of abilities man has lost over time. Among them is the ability to breathe in water, hang on trees with a tail, and run rapidly on his four limbs. All these abilities were however not lost overnight, it took hundreds and millions of years.
Take for instance, when man stopped hanging on trees using his tail, slowly the tail lost importance and the body had to get rid of it. Perhaps if we still needed to live in trees, we would be wagging our tails.
One ability that people most especially millennials and generation Z or Zoomers are gradually losing is paying attention. Attention is the amount of time spent concentrating on a task before becoming distracted.
It is no doubt that it has become some sort of scarce currency that anyone who owns it in plenty is able to do a lot in this world. By owning it I mean both giving and getting attention.
Types of attention
Attention is divided into two that is ‘’Sought attention’’ and ‘’Attention output’’.
Let me start with sought attention which is definitely not our point of focus today.
Sought Attention / receiving attention.
It is the attention a person gets from other people for something special about them. This can be talent, skill, ability, beauty, leadership, etc.
This kind of attention is what most millennials and GEN Z seek. Honestly, if acquired for good reasons, it can be something great. It can make you a lot of money, change your life and make you meet a lot of opportunities and people.
There are a lot of people that have earned huge followings on Instagram by posting their pictures. These followings are often converted into customers. Jordann Weingartner, Founder, and CEO of I Love Jewelry, has made crazy sales on Instagram.
Khabby Lame has also made a lot of money demystifying lifehacks on TikTok. With something attention-worthy, you can gain huge followings that you can use as you wish to make money or spread an ideology.
Getting this kind of attention takes a lot of creativity, luck, and sometimes special attributes that not many people have. It also takes a lot of the next type of attention which is of course our main focus today.
Attention output or giving attention.
Attention output is perhaps the widely understood type of attention. The attention you give to your lecturer in class as he teaches you that boring or interesting subject. The attention you give to the new movie at the cinema. The attention you give when trying to consume information from someone or your environment.
We are in an era of a stimulus-filled environment. There are distractions everywhere. Notifications from your phone, calls from work friends and family, various social media apps, television, porn, etc.
Most of the things that baby boomers, people born before 1982, only enjoyed once in a while or at a specific time can now be accessed a phone away.
Baby boomers waited for replies to their letters for a minimum of a week, today we have instant messaging apps. Your message is responded to in a second.
The stimulus available today can stimulate a lot of dopamine that has got so many young people addicted. These many distractions have reduced the attention span of millennials and zoomers.
Attention span is the measure of how long one can stay focused or concentrate on a specific task without giving in to distractions. For the high stimulus, the length of time millennials and zoomers can take focusing on one task is much lower on average compared to that of people that were born before the internet.
Attention output is divided into two;
1. Transient attention.
This is attention unconsciously given to distractions. When a distraction distracts you from what you are doing, you unconsciously give in. The transient attention for millennials and Gen Z or zoomers is higher compared to that of baby boomers.
Compared to baby boomers, when a millennial or zoomer is distracted, they spend more time paying attention to distractions or take longer returning to the important task they were doing.
2. Selective sustained attention or focused attention.
This type of attention is consciously given to a task. When you listen to a preacher in church or a comedian at the theatre, you are giving selective sustained attention. This is often determined by how interesting or important the task or activity is.
Unfortunately, most important tasks or activities are not as fun as the many distractions millennials and zoomers have today. The truth is it’s much more fun watching TikTok videos compared to paying attention to the chemistry teacher. The fun in watching TikTok videos is the main cause of the increasing TikTok addiction in people.
With so many fun distractions available and easily accessible, many young people have lost the willpower and ability to resist them. Many young people prefer the instant gratification these distractions bring. It is for this that they have got their brains wired to pay attention for a short time and mind-wander to places where they can find stimulus.
Why is attention becoming a superpower with millennials and Zoomers?
The attention span has dramatically reduced in people who were born after 1982. It is at its all-time lowest. People can hardly focus on one task for longer than 15minutes without giving in to distractions. And when they give in, they take a long time to refocus.
The transient attention i.e. time spent on distractions has greatly increased. With baby boomers, the attention span of selective sustained attention was longer than that of today’s millennials and zoomers. The attention span of transient attention of millennials and zoomers is longer than that of those born before 1982.
In other words, millennials and Zoomers spend more time distracted and less time doing productive activities. This is unconsciously done. They can choose to channel their attention to productive activities and actually want to but lack the ability to stick to the activity without giving in to the distractions.
For their lack of ability to concentrate on productive and important tasks, they are less likely to do daunting and less stimulating activities like practice, physical exercise, reading, learning, patience, committing to a goal, etc.
Unfortunately, achieving monumental and standing ovation-worthy achievements requires paying attention to a lot of boring stuff. With a lack of ability to do this, one can not break through mediocrity.
The few millennials and zoomers that will nurture the value of paying attention for a long time, will capture a lot of information to master or develop skills and achieve a lot of goals. These people will be seen as special by the many who can not dedicate such attention.
Focused attention is by day becoming a scarce ability. Remember value increases with increasing scarcity. Therefore those that have the ability to focus for long, are soon becoming people with a supernatural ability.
What Millennials and Generation Z/Zoomers can do?
In ‘’Amusing Ourselves to Death’’ by Neil Postman, the author talks about the failure of people in the internet era to control their affinity to instant gratification. Many people most especially millennials and Zoomers have lost their ability to delay gratification.
When the brain is constantly stimulated and pumped with dopamine, it’s craving for it increases. It hence demands those activities that give it a dopamine fix like watching porn, surfing the internet, watching YouTube and TikTok, video calling, chatting, and a lot more things.
This means you will hardly focus on less stimulating activities which are often the bedrock of great achievements. Millennials and zoomers need to be aware of this new problem. They need to know that they are in a stimulus-filled environment full of all sorts of distractions.
The lack of awareness of this, is the reason they unconsciously fall prey and realize they are in deep trouble when a lot is already lost.
Millennials and zoomers need to understand the following first before doing anything to work on their attention span:
- Online friends are not real friends unless there is intention to take it offline.
- The life portrayed on social media is far from reality. People post only their best moments or pics.
- The owners of websites and social sites want you glued to your phone because the longer you are online the more money they make.
- A lot of followers, likes and comments do not mean fundamental fame or wealth. The internet moves on very first.
- Instant gratification lasts as first as it is accessible. The easier it is to get, the shorter it lasts.
- Pornography is not real sex.
- You do not get all the information you need in just 5 minutes. You need to be focused for much longer to access information that will put you above average in all you do.
- Where ever you are, be there. Do not be with your friend while chatting with your sister and then chat with your friend when with your sister.
- It is okay to be bored. Spend time alone. Only then will you be able to connect with yourself.
- Famous musicians, actors, actresses, sportsmen, models, etc, are influential and famous on the internet and television because they invested a lot of hours focused on boring practice, training, classes, and self-work.
That being said, here are the things you can do to improve your attention span, increase your selective sustained attention, and shorten your transient attention.
A must for a very one with a short attention span. Several research programs have confirmed the benefits of meditation with an increased attention span being one of them. Meditation requires being focused for a set period.
The more you do it, the more the brain gains the strength to focus for longer. Meditation also gives you awareness of the thoughts running in your mind and the power to manage them.
Physical exercise is more like an aggressive version of meditation. It requires one to use body energy to physically engage in an activity like running, lifting weights, etc, for a set time.
The ability to commit to exercise helps one be able to focus on less aggressive tasks easily. There are also a lot of benefits of exercise to mental health like improved memory, resiliency, improved focus, among others.
Practice Active attentive listening.
Often focus on what people are saying to you. Conduct your body language in the direction of the person you are listening to. Do not touch your phone or any other distractions.
Draw your mind back in case it mind-wanders. Ignore your thoughts and listen attentively. Instead of thinking about your reply, give attention to the person speaking to listen to him or her.
Reading is one of the best ways to hone your mind to focus and pay conscious attention to what you are doing. Reading trains both your eyes and mind to be in one place at the same time. The more you read the more your mind develops more focus to increase your attention span.
Cut or eliminate distractions.
When you are going to do something important that requires you to pay attention for long, eliminate all potential distractions, turn off your phone data, switch off the television, get away from the noise, etc. The fewer the distractions the longer the attention span. You will also become more productive.
Manage your internet consumption.
Regulate the time you spend online surfing the internet or browsing through your social media accounts. Set a time limit to check emails and other messages. You will not die if you take hours offline. In fact, you will learn to love it.
Minimize the number of social platforms. You do not have to be on a very social platform. One or two are enough. A great way to start to manage your time spent on social media is doing a social media detox.
Plan your day.
Writing down the things you have to do every day has an impactful influence on your mind to focus on having those tasks done by day. You will find joy and increasing confidence in yourself every time you tick off something done on your daily to-do list. This will influence you to focus more on other activities.
Conclusion. It might seem like something unbelievable but trust me, in a few years, people who will be able to focus for long hours without giving in to distractions will be regarded as people with special powers. They will be able to do a lot that many people can not do. If you want to be part of those people, your time is now, to act upon your distractions and boost your focus so your attention span can remain in the green zone.