How to boost your attention and ability Whether you’re driving a car with children yelling in the backseat or trying to read a book in a coffee shop while someone talks loudly on their phone, attention is essential for navigating and interacting with the world.
However, attention has a limited capacity, meaning we can only process so many things at once. This is why it’s essential to be able to filter out distractions that can divert focus from the task at hand.
New research highlights the importance of daily meditation, exercise and sleep for improving executive functioning, a component of attention that helps us prioritize what we want to engage with and filter out unwanted interference.
I am currently conducting my PhD research in the Klein Lab at Dalhousie University, which studies all things attention-related. This involves both fundamental research looking at how different areas of the brain contribute to how people interact with the world, and applied research developing game-like tools that measure attention in children. I recently published a review of over 70 studies looking at how different aspects of lifestyle impact attention
When we study attention in the lab, we break it down into a number of unique components which serve different purposes. Executive functioning is the component that kicks in when you are trying to focus in a distracting setting, like holding a conversation when your favourite TV show is on in the background, or when you are dealing with an impulse, like resisting the urge to have another potato chip.
Executive functioning is also involved in monitoring for distracting thoughts, like getting caught up in a daydream. It is affected by a number of different disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.
My review found that by implementing daily meditation, getting consistent exercise and maintaining healthy sleeping habits, you can boost the efficiency of your executive functioning. So if you want to improve your productivity and reduce your impulsivity, you may want to consider making these changes in your routine.