This has been the grouse of Gen X for some time now: that millennials have rapidly-reducing attention spans. But how much of that is fact and how much is fiction? We spoke to clinical psychologist, H’vovi Bhagwagar, in order to separate truth from misconception.

It's a Generational Change

As much as we hate to admit it, it’s hard to ignore the fact that dwindling attention spans have become increasingly common today. However, that may not necessarily be a bad thing as Bhagwagar sees it. She says, “If we compare kids today to our generation, then yes, it seems like they have shorter attention spans, when in reality scientists are discovering that kids’ brains are rewiring and adapting to the changes in their environment.” As with most other paradigm behavioural shifts, the root can be traced to technology’s massive impact on our lives. “In the past 15 years, the amount of technology we are exposed to - including the internet, iPads, TV - has increased. It's completely changed the way kids today think, so we may need to look at dwindling attention span as a way for this younger generation to adapt to these changes,” she explains.  
Children today seem to lose focus much sooner on single tasks as compared to the previous generation, but at the same time researchers find that their ability to multitask and switch between tasks is improving

-H'vovi Bhagwagar

Move With the Times

While you might be tempted to lock your gadgets away and force yourself to interact with the outside world in longer spurts, it’s important to remember that this is the world that a lot of younger people have been born into. To them, our tech-dependent environment is simply what’s normal. “However, researchers find that their ability to multitask and switch between tasks is improving,” adds Bhagwagar. One way to come to terms with this change is to adapt. Bhagwagar’s solution is simple. “We may need to... make alterations in our teaching methods and education system to support these changes," she cautions.

Draw the Line

While technology may not be what’s ruining us all (as so many doomsayers love to proclaim) there’s no doubt that too much can be a bad thing. After all, as the old saying goes, everything is good in moderation. But what exactly does excessive use of technology cause? “Too much screen time is definitely a bane. It leads to vitamin D deficiency (since it reduces outdoor play), eyesight problems, headaches, bad dreams, and other issues,” says Bhagwagar. The best way to stay healthy and strike a balance is:
  • Get enough physical activity - it's just as necessary as mental activity
  • Eat right to keep your mind at optimal sharpness
  • Teach your children to balance their online time with offline time

Improve Your Attention Span

Before we tell you how to improve your attention span, it’s important to have a measure of what’s 'normal'. Bhagwagar has a simple tool to help you assess this: “A simple mathematical calculation to assess attention span for a single task is this: multiply your age by 2-3 minutes of attention.” Therefore, a 10-year-old can hold his or her attention for between 20-30 minutes on a single task, while adults can focus their complete attention on a single task for up to 45-60 minutes. After this, there is brain saturation and fatigue, which is completely normal. If you still feel like your attention span needs some *ahem* attention, there’s plenty you can do to keep your mind as sharp as possible. Here are Bhagwagar’s top tips to keeping your mind focused:
  • Try listening to instrumental music in the background while performing a cognitively challenging task, as it can help to build focus.
  • Eat right (so consume less sugary and fatty foods), exercise for at least 30 minutes daily and ensure that you get seven hours of sleep - these are most obvious ways to build attention.
  • Make a daily to-do list (even for kids), it's a great way to build focus. Lists shouldn't only cover activities related to school, college or the office, but also for easily-overlooked tasks that need focus, such as meal planning, planning for exams, planning events or scheduling appointments.
  • Apply mindfulness to seemingly mindless tasks such as bathing, dressing up, driving and cooking - it can jerk the brain into improving focus.


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