Better Attention Span - How to Control Your Attention

How to Control Your Attention.

Is it Hard to Increase Your Attention Span? No. It is Simple.

Learning how to operate attention is simple. It just takes practice using challenging, unique strategic mental exerise drills until you grow familiar, comfortable, and effective at controlling it to boost your attention span. We've provided an Attention Control Training Drill further down the page that will quickly introduce you to your Attention in ways you'll find interesting and give you an opportunity to practice controlling it without worry.

No matter where you are in life, a short attention span has consequences. Whether in the classroom or a board meeting, if your mind has a wandering habit, or if thoughts and self-talk regularly distract, that could be problematic. As you become proficient and well-versed in this discipline, your growing Attention Mastery will naturally remove attention-related problems from your life.

The Easiest, Simplest Way to Learn to Master Attention: Attention Training Drills.

Engaging in attention-heavy mental exercise accelerates your journey towards a deeper understanding of HOW ATTENTION, CONCENTRATION, and MENTAL FOCUS FUNCTION. The work you put in boosts your skill and proficiency, reinforcing your belief in your innate capacity to control and maximize your attention. These fundamental principles and ideas can move you forward to achieving easy, consistent, reliable, and confident mental focus.

The Fundamentals of Attention Control Training - How Attention Control Works.

Using your Attention productively brings to mind several examples of people who use special tools to focus in on what's important. Let's consider a camera photographer, or maybe a stage lighting engineer. Both use a complex tool to get a clearer view of their subject or subjects. They widen and narrow the aperatures of their tools (making the circle or globe of coverage bigger or smaller) to see more, to see less, to see more clearly, or to block out unwanted subjects. Both a camera and a spotlight can be adjusted to the tiniest focus, or the broadest, panoramic view available to the tool.

In the mental training community, writers, coaches, and instructors have long used the concept of the 'Attention Bubble,' 'Spotlight of Attention,' 'Camera Lens of Attention,' and other terms to describe the adjustable nature of that personal power.

As a camera or spotlight can be manipulated for best effect, so can your Attention. You can attend to whatever you are aware of, or can choose to bring into your Awareness. You can learn to do so with greater comfort, endurance, flexibility, ease, and expertise. So, when we open up our mental training gym, what kind of workout are we to expect? Let's talk about Attention Zones.

Attention Zones: The Four Zones Through Which You Pay Attention.

Zone One - Body Internal (Tight or Panormaic Focus)- Directing Attention to an internal target, such as the feel of air entering and leaving your lungs, the feel of your heart beating, or the feel of any level of muscular tension anywhere in your body. When moving the spotlight of Attention (or bubble, lens, etc.) around your body in order to analyze the sensations there, you are working the internal zone. You can attend to zone one, body internal in a wide, panoramic fashion or in a tight, narrow way as you would when adjusting a camera or spotlight.

Zone Two - Body External (Tight or Panoramic Focus) - Directing Attention to an external body target - typically on the skin surface, hair, related to anything you may be wearing as it makes contact with your body. Your Attention spotlight can be widened to encompass your entire body or narrowed down to a tiny dot to study a single hair.

Zone Three - External Environment (Tight Focus) - Directing Attention to an external target, typically narrowing in on a small, or a small area of a large target, such as any object in your environment (tree, rock, glass of water, person), or an aspect of the environment itself (sky, clouds, grass, ground). Even if the target is large, the zone to focus in on is not.

Zone Four - External Environment (Panoramic Focus) - Distributing wide Attention focus accross a large area of sensory input, such as when looking at a mountainscape (and not narrowing in on the tiny details of one pebble at its base).

You should strive to be able to easily move your Attention from zone to zone. Further, you should aim to hold Attention to any zone, and any target, whether narrowing in on a small target or expanding your Awareness to attend to a large, panoramic target, the act of doing so on purpose, knowing that you're doing it on purpose, is Attention Control.

Let's do a quick Mental Exercise Drill demonstration to show you around the Attention Zones.

Test Your Attention Control Skills Right Now!

The following is not meant to test your Attention Span but to take your Awareness (you) on a friendly, fun tour of your Attention. As with other cognitive drills, this one will require that you use Attention to manipulate itself. With your Awareness, you will rely upon this Attention-based exercise to practice the following basic mental martial arts katas:

  1. Connecting to the Attention State - accessing the attentive mental state and settling into it in order to deploy and command. At this entry point, you step into Attention to experience it (Meta-Attention) and take hold of it (grab the Attentoin "Spotlight").
  2. Adjusting Scale and Scope of the Attention Spotlight - willfully manipulating the size and coverage area of the 'spotlight' (bubble, lens, etc.) of Attention to take in information or limit it.
  3. Directing Attention & Adjusting the Attention Spotlight - aiming it to a target within any one of the attention zones, be it internal or external, big or small, wide or narrow, and within each new zone, changing its scale at will from wide to medium to narrow to pinprick, back and forth as desired.
  4. Sustaining the Attention Spotlight - holding onto your Attention target (maintaining "Target Lock," as figher pilots might say). Many people have Attention habits wherein their focus flitters about all over the place. They can attend, but their signal is easily disrupted in favor of a more attractive signal (distraction). The objective is to target lock your objective and then willfully enforce 'SIGNAL STRENGTH' so that the grip of your Attention remains steady as competing stimuli from all forms of distraction work to cause 'DROP LOCK' (losing your Attention target). When distracting signals press in on your Awareness, your brain naturally divides the signal strength of your focus to assess the inbound 'temptation.'

    If your brain shifts too much signal power to the distraction, then you'll begin to lose signal clarity with your correct target. If your Awareness begins to slip, you will fail to notice as Attention slips from conscious control under the power of your Awareness into the clutches of your automated default system, where imagination takes over. Thus, daydreaming and mental wandering are signs of poorly-sustained Attention. The longer you can maintain an Attention signal, the better. 

    Before you can sustain for long periods, the first thing you need is to work at sustaining for short periods, but a lot more often, with a lot more repetition until any short endurance builds into marathon-level attention fitness. One reason you can feel better about having a short Attention span, is that a short attention span is perfectly suited to train itself to move from rookie to Professional Grade Attention.
  5.  Detaching Attention - willfully breaking your Attention away from an acquired target and re-directing it to another to re-target, hold, detach, and move about. This can happen from one zone to the next in a predetermined order or no order at all, as long as the result is a growing ability to willfully disconnect from an Attention signal in order to choose another.

    On the surface this may sound elementary, but therapist offices, jails, and mental hospitals are filled with people whose biggest problem in life is their inability to let go of powerful thoughts and emotions in order to objectively deal with and master them. This is a vital skill because, when you are not in charge of your Attention, your imagination instantly takes over (as part of your default nervous system function). Default mode is where your mistakes are made.

Keep in mind that all the mental martial arts moves listed can be practiced across all zones - internal to your body, external surface of your body, close-up in your environment, distant in your environment, and even applies to your imagination when performing techniques that ask you to visualize your target.

Attention Control Drill: Zone-to-Zone Attention Control

(You'll need about 15 minutes - 30 would be better. No rushing. No pressure. Just learning)

The following Attention Control Training Drill is simple enough for almost anyone to do, yet it so completely covers every 'Attention Kata' (mental martial arts move) you'll need to coax your Attention into doing what you want, where you want, how you want, and for as long as you want, with greater ease and comfort over time as you improve. 

With this one training routine, you will do all five of the fundamental mental martial arts katas - more than enough to handle nearly any form of distraction effectively when combined:

  • Connecting to Your Attention State - Concentrating your Awareness
  • Adjusting Scale and Scope of Your Attention Spotlight.
  • Directing Attention & Adjusting Your Attention Spotlight.
  • Sustaining the Attention Spotight for extended periods.
  • Detaching Your Attention Spotlight from a target at will.

Feel free to choose outdoor settings if possible, ones that offer tranquility and are devoid of chaos. If that's not feasible, a serene room within your residence will suffice. As a starting baseline, set aside at least 15 minutes for each training session (30 would be better).

That much of a time commitment will help become comfortable with mental workouts in short order. Try for 30 minutes of continuous repetitions for a single session (average) within a month. There are no hard and fast rules, only what makes you comfortable, and even that comes with the knowledge that your duty is to surpass your comfort zone. Keep in mind, also, that you get what you put in, only in the case of mental training, consistency allows you to more trips to the watering hole to quench your thirst, so to speak.

Choose a time and a place where you will be comfortable and relaxed and in which nobody will disturb you (including putting away your phone).

  1. Start your timer or alarm whatever the device or gadget, make sure that said device is not an active distraction. Initially, go for 3 to 5 minutes running the drill, and increase to full 15-minute or 30-minute drills as you grow confident.
  2. Begin by finding your breath and using it as an anchor to begin centering your Attention onto a target. If you wish, you can start on another target in another zone. For example, you might decide that your opening target is a candle flame that you like to use during meditation. Maybe there is a flower in your garden where you're doing the mental workout. Breath is recommended because it's so convenient and near-at-hand. Regardless, find your chosen target (in, on, or around your body) and 'TARGET LOCK' your Attention onto it. You decide for how long.
  3. Let go of that Attention target and move to the next. Hold, and repeat to the next target.  With each shift in Attention targets, you move from zone to zone, and shift the spotlight (bubble, lens, etc) size back and forth from panoramic-wide to tight-narrow and anywhere in between, shrinking and expanding your Attention.
  4. Continue to shift from zone to zone in any order you wish. For example, You can start with Attention to your breath, your breathing, the way it feels as you inhale and exhale (Focus: Body, Internal, Tight focus).
  5. After a couple minutes, you can detach from your breathing (or other body target) and use your Awareness to guide Attention to the feel of, say, your torso, and the experience of cloth resting on it as you take in those breaths (Focus, Body, External, Medium Shot focus).
  6. Then, you totally relax your Attention Spotlight and let it spread to perceive and take in the sensation of your whole body, externally (not easy, but you'll get it at some point). 
  7. Then, you lift your notice from your body, using your Awareness of yourself to detach your Attention from your torso and guide it to a small stone close to where you're sitting. In order to see its details you squint to narrow your perception to a small dot that clarifies the little rock but, perceptually, blurs out most of the background around it (External Environment, Tight Focus).
  8. Finally, you detach your Attention from that small stone, relax your Attention Spotlight, and allow it to expand panoramically wide to take in the wide background of a garden wall with gorgeous hanging vines (External Environment, Panoramic Focus).
  9. When the first zone-to-zone circuit is done, return to your starting zone to begin again. Repeat this process, changing up the order of zones and the targets chosen.

The Zone-to-Zone Attention Control Training Drill is intense because, even as a beginner, it will challenge your brain's Attention and control mechanisms as it would a professional Attention user. If you've read through the exercise to this point, you may have used your imagination to travel from zone to zone as I was describing the exercise to you. That is very good. It means you understand and have a foundation to start from.

If you practice this technique and become good at it, there will be no feat of concentration and focus that is beyond you, because you will know how easy it is for a human being to disconnect from distraction, thanks to tons of practice at acquiring and detaching from signals during practice.

Overall, mental workouts that challenge you to practice Attention katas prepare you extremely well to use them in other areas of your daily life. Unlike digital brain training, direct-method mental training drills can prove their value outside your training sessions as they make positive contributions to every area of your life. They call upon your effort and determination to overcome resistance, which can make it difficult to start. However, with practice, the sessions become easier to execute.

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