“Hello, are you listening?”
For those of us who have a short attention span, this is a question that we are frequently asked. This Tuesday, I was speaking to my cousin about it as I was interested to learn and compare situations in which we can feel, knowingly or unknowingly, our attention drifting off and how often this happens. I’ve experienced a massive drop in the duration of my attention span since the start of Ramadan last year. It has always been bad since I was a child but lately I feel as though it is getting worse. So, I’m enlisting your help by listing situations to decide whether it really is that bad or if indeed perhaps there is some hope!
- I struggle watching slow-paced films no matter how amazing many find it. Case in point: The Godfather. I remember it took me a long while to watch it and while I was blown away by some parts of the film, I remember my mind not being present for the most part. Strangely, I was able to pay attention watching Scarface whereas The Goodfella’s was far too fast-paced. Perhaps, a certain type of pace just works better for me?
- The amount of times I’ve had to re-read a single paragraph because it got me thinking about something else is a huge problem for me. This also applies to watching stand-up comedy where I recall having to rewind around 5 times or more for a small portion of a sketch because my mind was elsewhere. But you know what the worst is? Descriptive sentences. I am not talking about emotional depth but sensory overload. An example that comes to mind is the description of the Annexe in Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. My mind became a blur and stop lights were drawn, it was so overwhelming that the visual aid provided in the next page didn’t help. I was too exhausted to take it in. My mind needed a rest.
- I remember working in administration where I had to perform repetitive tasks to the point I felt like a zombie and going home and crying my eyes out. Although, my quality of work was good, it was more down to my problem-solving skills and efficient approach. So, I’ve been noticing recently that neither my heart nor mind likes focusing on repetitive tasks.
- I’m terrible at remembering dates unless they have emotional significance to me (I will remember your favourite colour though). Scratch that, because I forgot it was my own birthday for two years in a row even though I had made plans for it. The worst is perhaps forgetting appointments. I was supposed to go for an important doctor’s appointment and, ironically, one to talk about my attention span, a few times this year and even though I wrote it down on the calendar on my phone and set up alerts, I still forgot them. I am hopefully going to try something new though like placing papers on my wall which will have the appointments written on them.
- Losing items. This is something everyone in my family complains about and no amount of organisation seems to help because I instantly forget where I’ve placed something. Bedrooms usually contain more items which might be why it gets very confusing. Despite that, my family always pressure me to organise everyone’s birthday party as if only they find it stressful. You’re not the only one. Sometimes I feel like I’m their second mum and they don’t even think to ask if I’d even like to do it. After July, any relative who asks me to organise an event for them is on wafer thin ice.
- Taking on a huge project but once I must get to the detailed and tougher parts, I’ll dive into other, easier projects instead and I mean multiple projects. I have procrastinated on one project for over a year now and I’m not even George R.R. Martin, like how dare you, my mind? Getting down to the nitty, gritty makes me seriously anxious because I don’t want to mess it up by making the wrong decisions. Perhaps this is more an issue of self-doubt than attention span?
- I take the easy way out in group settings sometimes by tuning out a conversation if I know it requires full focus because I know that surely someone else will listen. Don’t worry though, if it something serious and I feel I can help then I will contribute but if it is not, then it is time for my mind to be one with the fairies.
- When I attended lectures and seminars, I used to zone out within 15-30 seconds. Never have I ever worked so hard on trying to focus on what was being said than I did at university, it took me all my energy to zone back in. Weirdly, if I am interested in a subject and usually it is when it is a more humanities-based topic, I’ll have laser-focus to the point that I won’t let the topic drop. The concentration is unreal. I remember for one subject that I absolutely loved I even did the further reading that wasn’t even required. Good luck shutting me up when I am interested.
- I remember since my second year at university, I have had trouble sleeping because my thoughts were racing from one subject to another with little to no relation and struggling to get my mind to focus to go to sleep. Unfortunately, I used to have 4/5 early morning starts for three years in a row, went to sleep between 5am-7am and balanced a job at the same time (two jobs in my final year). Luckily for me, a few years later, I finally started taking medication to tackle this specifically and it has helped a lot.
- Sometimes I zone out when I’m talking. MAN, I can go on tangents, don’t ask me a question that requires a straightforward answer if you value your sanity. This is one reason why I love the internet because I can actually remember what I was asked because, hello, it’s written right there in front of my very own eyes.
- I love dancing, I really do. But the dance tutorials I follow are very quick and it’s not easy for me to remember the sequences even if my eyes are glued to the screen. I do wish they would take this into account because I find myself having to repeat the tutorial many times in order to at least remember half of it. This is why I especially love dancing when there’s no choreography.
- On a positive note, I can pay attention when I’m brainstorming. I think this is because it makes me so happy to generate ideas and possibilities. I’m ecstatic. I am the most me when I brainstorm. I remember coming up with ten ideas in the space of a minute or two and weirdly remembering them all when I sketched them out. For some reason, this is also one of the few times that I can come up with a comprehensive plan.
So, guys, my cousin thinks that this isn’t normal whereas I think it’s pretty normal. Sure, some of it is problematic but I do feel that for the most part that it’s more a case of selective attention as I know that I can focus on things I love but some things which are detail-heavy can throw things out of balance. I also think that it’s perhaps my anxiety which has been present since childhood that can make me forgetful at times.
The other question I want to ask you is what tips and advice do you have that you think will work for me? I really want this to get better especially as I do not want to miss out on opportunities and better health because of this. It needs to improve ASAP.