Dan Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, has a new (well, perhaps not so new) book on focus that caught my attention some time back. I was particularly interested because we have always been a tad concerned that G2 struggles with this…
Focus delves into the science of attention in all its varieties, presenting a long overdue discussion of this little-noticed and under-rated mental asset. In an era of unstoppable distractions, Goleman persuasively argues that now more than ever we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to survive in a complex world.
Goleman boils down attention research into a threesome: inner, other, and outer focus. Drawing on rich case studies from fields as diverse as competitive sports, education, the arts, and business, he shows why high-achievers need all three kinds of focus, and explains how those who rely on Smart Practices—mindfulness meditation, focused preparation and recovery, positive emotions and connections, and mental “prosthetics” that help them improve habits, add new skills, and sustain greatness—excel while others do not.
Focus is Essential for Success
Ellen Galinsky says “focus” is one of seven essential life skills that every child needs. In a longitudinal study of over 1000 children, researchers measured the ability to pay attention and ignore distractions for 8 years. These same children were assessed again at age 32 to see how well they had progressed in life. The study concluded that the ability to concentrate was the strongest predictor for success.
[The ability to focus] “is more important than IQ or the socio economic status of the family you grew up in for determining career success, financial success and health.” – Daniel Goleman
The Age of Diminishing Focus
Frequent emails, text messages and audio-visual stimulation diminish our attention spans. According to myBrainLab, poor focus is one of the most common problems that children present with. Daniel Goleman states that “…attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before, we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention.”
According to one study, parents who are often distracted (e.g. multi-tasking with their smart phones frequently), can “pass it on” to their children.
“Caregivers who appear distracted or whose eyes wander a lot while their children play appear to negatively impact infants’ burgeoning attention spans during a key stage of development.” – Professor Chen Yu
Staying focused is a challenge for anyone at any time. In the age of distraction, the challenge is greater than ever. Technology isn’t going away, therefore we need to teach children how to concentrate when they need to. The ability to focus is a vital skill to develop in every child.
How can we help our children?
- Manage the environment – remove anything that might serve as a distraction. For example, when children are doing their homework, turn the TV off.
- Practice mindfulness – build up the mind muscle by meditating on the breathing. The practice of drawing the attention back to the breath and resisting the impulse to let the mind wander is a mental workout in itself.
- Mindful thoughts – encourage children to be mindful of the tasks they are working on. When they start to get distracted from the task, ask them to acknowledge that they are getting distracted and return their attention to the task.
- Stop multi-tasking – multi-tasking is the opposite of practicing mindfulness. It weakens the ability to focus. When our children multi-task, they are training their minds to wander.
- Take a break – sometimes, all they need to regain focus is a break.
- Spend time in nature – encourage children to take their breaks in nature. According to the attention restorative theory, spending time in nature improves concentration by refueling the brain’s attentional resources.
- Learn something new – a recent study states that learning new information or using existing knowledge in new ways improves attentional skills. Think of it as the old-fashioned way of brain training.
- Brain training games and activities that help to build attentional skills and focus:
- Learn a musical instrument – learning a musical instrument may help children focus their attention.
“Playing a musical instrument was associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation within areas implicated in motor planning and coordination, visuospatial ability, and emotion and impulse regulation.” This helps to improve “executive functioning, including working memory, attentional control, as well as organization and planning for the future.” – Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
- Stress management – stress affects the ability to focus. Help children learn to manage their stress with meditation, time out in nature, and art therapy.
- Sleep – children who are sleep deprived have trouble focusing and paying attention.
- Nutrition – children who start the day with a good breakfast have better attention at school. Encouraging children to eat the right foods will also make a difference to their attention and focus.