According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute the average attention span in 2015 is now…chocolate! Oh my god, I need a piece of chocolate in my mouth pronto. Sorry, I meant to say the average attention span is 8.25 seconds! This makes the attention span of a goldfish (9 seconds) more superior than that of a modern-day human being.
More than ever before today’s high-performing professional is slammed with external and internal stimulus just screaming for undivided attention. How are we supposed to keep up in the most competitive, fast-paced marketplace yet with so many potential distractions that are newer, shinier, and promise to be way more entertaining than your boring to-do list? As an example, the average number of times per hour an office worker checks their email inbox is 30!
Focus. Focus is one of the most common traits of top senior executives, excelling entrepreneurs and business leaders alike. They have the ability to filter out the daily noise and nonsense to complete the most influential items to move themselves and their companies forward.
There are a lot of articles around on external focus tricks, but this only temporarily covers up symptoms. My plan for you is different. Let’s explore focus from an internal biochemical wellness strategy because how heck would an archer ever hit their mark feeling depressed, exhausted, stressed, and over-stimulated? A stable internal environment creates more precise external focus. So before your attention runs out, here are four highly underestimated lifestyle factors that rob millions of professionals worldwide from experiencing more laser-like focus:
1. Stabilize Blood Sugar
Have you ever seen a sweet child transform into a tyrannical Tasmanian devil after one too many Pixy Stix? It’s pretty hard to get their attention, huh? Yeah, that’s the brain on sugar and adults are bouncing around mentally, emotionally and physically just the same because the average American is hopped up on 250 grams of sugar per day (a sugar cube is 4 grams)!
There are two main fuels for your brain: 1) water and 2) sugar
Dehydration, skipping meals, eating too many carbs and sucking down sugar causes a spike and crash of your blood sugar
Both dehydration and blood sugar crashes are very stressful to the brain and body leading to a ‘fight or flight’ stress response
Fight or flight activates the left hemisphere of the brain, which not only shuts down creativity and intuition, but also causes us to become hyper-externally focused
In fight or flight the brain/body act as if it’s life or death (doesn’t matter that it’s only a deadline or upcoming bill). You’re attention will jump all over on the lookout for potential threats in your external environment causing ADD-like behavior. Also sugar crashes simultaneously sap energy for sustained concentration
Sugar acidifies the blood and breathing rate increases balancing blood pH again inducing a stress response leading to left-brain dominance and hyper-external focus.
In the graph above you will see how eating high sugar and simple carbohydrates (red line) give you an immediate spike in blood sugar that leads to sugar/fat storage and then a drastic drop resulting in the 3 C’s – sugar cravings, energy crash and cortisol release! The stress response will make your blood sugar look the same as the red line on this graph. Choosing another coffee, carbohydrate or sugar-rich food during will give you another spike continuing a nasty roller coaster of weight gain, fluctuating mood, exhaustion and lack of focus.
- Always include fat, fiber and protein in every single meal and snack
- Drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water per day
- Never skip meals, especially breakfast
- Minimize your added sugar and read food labels for grams of sugar (aiming for 25 grams/day)
2. Brain Training
The biggest distraction for the majority of my executive clients is not their phone, computer, or even their co-workers, but their own mind’s chatter! It’s been estimated by Deepak Chopra that we have 68,000 thoughts per day. The real kicker is that 90% of those thoughts are negative in orientation and you had yesterday! Being bombarded by random (often negative) thoughts all day long creates quite a dilemma when trying to get work done.
Like a muscle, you can train the brain. Think of the following solutions as a mental strength-training program and through these exercises you can build the ‘muscles’ of attention, concentration, and even compassion. Similar to a muscle when regularly exercised the brain can also grow particularly in brain volume and gray matter!
- Time breathing to walking with 5 steps inhaling and 5 steps exhaling
- Choose 5 words to repeat silently, ‘I’m Happy, Healthy, and Whole’
- Count up to 10 alternating inhales and exhales (1 – inhale, 2 – exhale, 3 – inhale, 4 – exhale)
Start by doing these exercises for less than 5 minutes on repeat and gradually increase with practice. It’s cool if you lose track or get distracted – restart ASAP. Your ability to refocus again and again and again is the key for building concentration!
3. Slow and Deepen Your Breath
The average person takes over 20,000 breaths per day, but 90% of individuals have an inverted breathing pattern. This means that they are breathing primarily out of their mouth and chest instead of their nose and belly. Breathing through the mouth and chest is a response to stress that mimics hyperventilation to quickly deliver oxygen in a fight or flight situation. Today’s executives and professionals end up holding their breath often, only take shallow breaths, and breathe way too quickly. Who cares and how does this effect focus? Good question.
The mind and breath mirror each other. The faster one’s mind, the faster one’s breathing. If we can slow our breathing we can slow our mind. A slower mind is more clear mind without the constant avalanche of distracting thoughts.
This happens because fast, shallow breaths from the mouth and chest activate the stress response (remember blood sugar crashes, left brain dominance and hyper-external focus) as well as minimizes oxygen to the brain/body that can also change blood pH by exhaling too much CO2.
- With a hand on your navel and chest, inhale the first 2/3 from belly expansion the last 1/3 from chest expansion
- Lay on your back with both hands on your stomach, inhaling and exhaling through your nose rising your belly like a balloon
- Take ten 10-second breaths by counting 1-2-3-4-5 in and 5-4-3-2-1 out
- Every hour take 10 nose and belly breaths to repattern
4. Respect Sleep
As I covered in10 Tips for Deep Sleep, 100% of our physical and mental repair happens during sleep. We are messing with the powerful circadian cycle (24 hour light-dark, wake-sleep cycle) when we don’t get enough hours of sleep every night and don’t sleep within the optimal bedtime! Both of these can make your focus fall flat on it’s face from an exhausted body and brain.
- Physical repair is from 10:00pm to 2:00am (i.e. midnight bedtime cuts repair by 50%)
- Mental and neurological repair is between 2:00am to 6:00am
- Missing sleep between 2:00am to 6:00am for phone calls, emails, stress, or shift work will create challenges in concentration, focus, memory and patience
- Getting less than 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night and sleeping outside of the optimal bedtime of 10:00pm – 6:00am causes daily stress and fatigue
- Fatigue drops your attention, focus and concentration like a bad habit
- Stress and fatigue causes you to crave sugar and caffeine which leads to the vicious cycle I shared above in the Stabilize Blood Sugar section
- Start moving your bedtime back in 15-minute increments weekly until you are sleep by 10:30pm
- Dim down your home and screens 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime
- Practice your Brain Training and Slow and Deepen Your Breath exercises 15 to 30 minutes before bed
Try additional techniques from 10 Tips for Deep Sleep
Intention Fuels Attention
Lastly, a prerequisite to acquire laser-like focus and the motivation to apply the four strategies I have shared with you today is having a BIG intention! Your intention truly needs to be grand and bright enough to draw your daily and even hourly attention.
Remember where your focus goes, energy flows. If you deeply want the body, career, health, life, relationship, or finances of your dreams bad enough you will continually direct your energy and force towards it every day. That’s focus. Those that lack a great enough intention will find even focusing on mundane tasks nearly impossible.
30-Day Focus Challenge
Congratulations! You proved that you have enough focus and a big enough intention of becoming the best version of yourself to read through this entire article. As my favorite childhood cartoon television show, GI Joe, always stated at the end of an episode, ‘Knowing is half the battle’. The other half the battle is about to begin – get off the bench and jump into the game of life by taking full responsibility of creating the personal and professional life that you desire. No more ‘should’, it’s a ‘must’. Take action.
I encourage you all to apply at least one of the four strategies I presented above every day for the next consecutive 30 days. Mark your start and end date on your calendar, invite as many people to join, and identify a good-for-your-health incentive for following through on your challenge.
I wish you the most positive and productive 30 days ever and invite you to share feedback with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.