“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austrian Composer of the Classical Era)
“I think the best thing I can do is to be a distraction.”
Jackie Kennedy (Former U.S. First Lady )
“Creativity is just connecting things.”
Steve Jobs (Co-Founder; Apple Inc.)
Be short and selective with your attention.
I felt like a prisoner in pretty much every classroom I ever had to sit in. In high school, I’d sit in the front row in class because that was supposed to help me pay attention better but I’d still end up zoning out after 5 minutes. Sometimes I’d stop zoning out just long enough to write a note to my girlfriend or doodle or look back to at my wrestling buddies and make faces.
In college, I’d sit in 4-hour long science labs and let the overachievers in my group do everything because I hated sharing tasks and workspaces with other people. In graduate school, I’d feel really stupid and guilty when I had to read a journal article 15 times before finally understanding what it was about. My professors told me to read more slowly and thoroughly but that just made me fall asleep. What was wrong with me?
Paying Attention Should Be Hard
Attention spans are not getting shorter, they’re getting more selective. A large survey found that 80% of college students text during class and 15% send 11 or more texts in a single class period. During a recent study, human spies were placed at the back of law school classrooms to record the technological activities of 2nd and 3rd year law students. The spies reported that 58% of students were using their laptops for non-class purposes, like surfing the web or using Facebook, more than half the time. Statistics like these have been used repeatedly to argue that attention spans are getting shorter and that students and people in general are learning less.
Yet, the collective Intelligent Quotient (IQ) of the world continues to increase. This trend has come to be known as the Flynn-Effect. There has been a substantial and longterm increase in multiple types of intelligence test scores that have been continually measured in many parts of the world since the 1930’s. Similar improvements have been reported for both the semantic and episodic memory of these populations. In other words, we are getting smarter and our memories are improving. Why?
9 Advantages Of Paying Less Attention
Attention is money. There’s nothing more valuable than attention in today’s world. As a result, people who are the most selective with their attention are thriving. This means that having a short attention span – refusing to give up your attention to things that don’t matter to you and limiting your attention in environments that don’t fit you – carries with it significant advantages. Here are 9 unexpected benefits of having a short attention span:
1. You’re more committed.
The idea that people who have short attention spans are flaky is a myth.
It’s not that these people can’t pay attention; it’s that they choose to only pay attention to the things that matter to them most.
People with short attention spans are so committed to their biggest goals that they don’t have time to pay attention to things and people who are not a part of their goals. This commitment also makes them more resilient (see #5) and less likely to be manipulated (see #9).
2. You’re more connected
Connectors, not specialists, change the world.
People who have an easy time paying attention to minutia and extremely narrow fields of study are at a disadvantage in today’s world. They’re limited to only seeing what’s right in front of them.
On the other hand, people who have short attention spans are able to pick and choose from numerous fields of study and connect very different ideas in very unusual ways. They are also able to bring very different types of people together to make big things happen.
Steve Jobs wasn’t a particularly great artist, engineer, or designer. But he was able to bring the best artists, engineers, designers, and marketers together to create amazing products and fulfill his vision (see #7).
Richard Branson openly admits that he is horrible with numbers and details, but he is consistently able to bring amazing people together to disrupt the world’s largest industries.
3. You have greater energy levels.
Energy creates interest and interest creates energy.
Whenever I started to take a test in school, my right leg would jitter up and down uncontrollably. I would also chew ravenously through an entire pack of Big Red gum.
I also noticed that my energy levels would shoot through the roof whenever one of my teachers started discussing certain topics that I was really interested in like health, psychology, or entrepreneurship. Usually my teachers put me to sleep.
All of this made me think I had some kind of defect. But then I found out that fidgeting increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brains of people with short attention spans. Both of these neurotransmitters have been shown to increase focus.
I also found out that length, familiarity, and repetitiveness of a task decreases focus in people with short attentions spans (see #9). In other words, these people don’t have a defect, they simply choose to tune out when they get bored.
Individuals with short attention spans have tons of energy. But this energy is interest-dependent. If you have a short attention span, channel your energy into the things you’re interested in or rally your interest through physical activity.
4. You’re more flexible.
The shorter your attention span, the more quickly you can adapt to changing circumstances.
People who pay attention to everyone and everything have a disability. They get locked in on one way of doing things and constantly find themselves trapped in dead end positions and stale relationships.
Everything in the world is moving more and more quickly. The only way to keep up is to keep your mind free of clutter. This means being short and selective with your attention.
Stay committed to your principles and biggest goals (see #1), but unattached to processes and other people’s opinions.
5. You’re more resilient.
Juggling numerous ideas (see #7) and projects without occasionally dropping the ball is impossible. Mistakes happen. So do temporary failures. The key is to be able to pick up the balls you drop as quickly as possible and start running with them again right away. This kind of resiliency is something that people with short attention spans excel at.
On the other hand, people who get hyper-focused on irrelevant details or who dive deeply into their emotions after mistakes are doomed to permanent failure. It’s impossible to move ahead when you’re zeroed in on the past.
It should be hard to pay attention to mistakes, failures, negative emotions, and negative people. Don’t let anyone or anything make you feel bad about disregarding past.
6. You are more intelligent.
Intelligent people refuse to pay attention to everything.
Skimming and forgetting things easily — two things often ascribed to people with short attention spans — have been shown to promote rather than inhibit a person’s overall intelligence.
A survey of 900 experts interviewed for a Pew Internet report found that browsing or skimming the Internet enhances human intelligence. The majority of the experts agreed that this kind of short attention span behavior was in fact improving people’s reading and writing abilities, as well as their overall grasp of knowledge.
Albert Einstein famously said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” Einstein was also known to pay people to follow him around to write down his ideas as he thought of them so he wouldn’t have to waste valuable brain space by remembering everything.
Being able to scan the horizon of human knowledge without getting tripped up on details that don’t matter is a critical skill that people with short attention spans can easily master.
7. You have better ideas.
More than anything else, people with short attention spans excel and having incredible ideas. Their ideas are bigger, more abundant, and more novel than the average person’s ideas. This is because they are able to connect things
Consider Albert Einstein again and John Lennon (from The Beatles). Both of these men’s achievements were groundbreaking precisely because of their short attention spans. As Sam Anderson of New York magazine suggests, Einstein and Lennon’s distracted nature is what allowed them to link and synthesize things that had previously been unlinked—Newtonian gravity and particle physics for Einstein, rock and blues and folk and doo-wop and bubblegum pop and psychedelia for Lennon.
Distraction is the mother of invention.
8. You have a bigger vision.
I rarely watch TV but when I do I find myself clicking through every channel at least once to see what all of my options are before settling on a single one.
I do the same thing with the radio in a rental car when I’m driving through a new town. I’ll hit the scan button and (even if I find a good song) I’ll keep scanning until I’ve gone through every station.
This is how people with short attention spans treat life. They’ll constantly scan through everything that’s available, looking for the best ideas, people, and opportunities to pluck up and insert into the vision that they have for their lives (see #2 and #7). As a result, they are able to create and fulfill much bigger visions than the average person.
The only way to maintain a bird’s eye view of the world is to never get stuck focusing too much on one thing. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should never care deeply about anything. It means that you should never limit your perspective.
9. You are manipulated less.
Contrary to popular belief, people with short attention spans are more self-aware.
They know what they want and what they’re really interested in and quickly forget anything else as a result. Individuals with this kind of mindfulness carry with them the added bonus of being able to see through people and things that try to manipulate them.
Unlike the average person, people with short attention spans on not easily influenced by marketers and salesmen. They don’t chase shiny objects easily. Just the opposite. They see past shiny objects. They ignore carrots and sticks — the cheap incentives and superficial threats that swindle the average person.
This is why people with short attention spans are often the most successful businessmen, businesswomen, and entrepreneurs. They don’t get stuck seeking approval and chasing other people’s dreams; they chase their own dreams.
Do you have a short attention span? If so, how have you been able to use it to your advantage?
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