Modern life offers more distractions than humans have ever experienced before. There's no longer any reason to experience boredom for even a few minutes while you're waiting in line, taking a long flight, or suffering from insomnia, thanks to the endless supply of videos, movies, podcasts, books, health and wellness apps, social media feeds, and people to chat with that you can summon up with just a few taps of the finger.
There's a dark side to all of this, however, which is that this ready distraction can mean that focusing on any one thing is increasingly genuinely difficult.
Maybe when you're waiting to see the dentist, distraction is exactly what you need, but there are also many moments in life when you want to stay in the moment or concentrate on a piece of difficult work. If, like many people, you feel that your attention is more fragmented than it used to be, the tips below can help you regain that attention.
Deal with Rumination
One potential source of distraction is as old as human thought itself, and that is the tendency to ruminate over something. Ruminating essentially means that you're playing the same script in your head over and over. You might do this with issues that have no solution and issues that do, and the remedy differs depending on which kind it is.
For the former, you need a reminder to yourself to stop. Some people find wearing something around their wrist that they can snap to be helpful. Becoming conscious of the fact that you're heading back down a familiar but undesirable pathway can help you redirect your thinking.
As for the other type, the best way to address it is to find a solution. This can be harder than it sounds because rumination and procrastination go hand in hand. It might help motivate you if you find a way to reward yourself for finding and implementing a solution. An example might be if you're constantly worrying about money.
This can be hard to tackle because it isn't an easy fix, but if you start looking at ways to reduce your bills and make the money you do have stretch further, you might be able to quit worrying about it all the time. A student loan refinance can help you refinance your existing debt into a new one with lower monthly payments. Getting a roommate can cut your housing costs in half. Moving closer to work can cut your gas expenditures. Be creative, and don't dismiss any ideas out of hand until you've carefully considered them.
Don't Fear Boredom
Human brains need to be idle sometimes. Great ideas can come from allowing your mind to drift. The next time you find yourself in a situation where you're impatient and you'd normally take out your phone to compulsively scroll to pass the time, resist that urge. Let yourself relax into the sensation of boredom, reminding yourself that it isn't going to actually hurt you if you have to stand in line at the post office for fifteen minutes instead of the five it would usually take. Just as you would with exercise, gradually expand the amount of time you go without willingly trying to distract yourself.
This can seem vague and nonspecific, but in fact, cultivating awareness is a very concrete action. It simply means paying attention to the things around you. Instead of checking out of your immediate environment by looking at a screen, make a choice instead to look around. What do your senses tell you about where you are standing or sitting at that moment?
Rather than eavesdropping on strangers arguing online, you can eavesdrop on real people within earshot. As you change the number of stimuli you're exposed to and how you take it in, your attention in general will be more less fragmented, and you are almost certain to increase your ability to focus and your capacity to take on complex tasks returning. This in turn can help you start to use your phone more mindfully. You might turn to it to look up specific information or to use certain helpful apps instead of falling down a rabbit hole of scrolling or jumping from one page to another.