Tag Archives: attention

3 Reasons Why Winning the Attention War Is Vital for Peak Learners

how to optimize attention span

The great deep-thinking blogger Cal Newport thinks he’s tough because he’s not on Facebook ;-). Get this, I don’t even have a cellphone or smartphone. I’m not saying never, but I can’t afford that thing just yet. It consumes too much attention.

For knowledge workers, attention is the most vital thing in the world.

If you can’t use your processing power (aka attention) strategically, you’ll never grow, professionally and personally.

When it comes to highlighting the upside of exercising your attention muscle, most bloggers point to the increase of general productivity. Obviously, if you can’t focus your attention on your goals, you can kiss them goodbye.

Today let’s go deeper and look at cognitive output. Sustained attention is the power that enables you to think deeply. In other words, elaborate mental operations are impossible if you can’t hold your attention and dismiss distractions.

But why should you care about deep thinking?

For three reasons. Deep thinking produces high value, enhances your learning capacity, and provides profound satisfaction.

Deep thinking is radically different from everyday rule-based thinking that allows you to function in the world and make a living. Only deep thinking can produce creative breakthroughs, paradigm shifts and solutions to complex problems. Simply put, deep thinking will turbo-charge your value (personal intellectual capital).

Deep thinking will also make you a better learner. As Cal explains in many posts, reaching expert level in anything requires deliberate practice, and deep thinking is the ultimate mental deliberate practice. The higher you get in Bloom’s learning taxonomy, the more demanding the cognitive activities become.

Finally, producing great insights and output won’t only advance your career, it will also provide you with a sense of worth. The feeling following fruitful cognitive effort is simply great.

But there’s bad news; most of us are losing the attention war (look at the length of my paragraphs). The average attention span is apparently contracting.

Let me finish with the good news though. You can easily learn to control your attention. Practice going deep on a topic in your head. Uninterrupted. This means every 8 seconds (the current average attention span) you need to make the conscious effort to stay on that topic.

If you can do that for one hour, you’ll hold one of the major keys to peak learning.

How I Still Struggle with The Most Common Communication Mistake

public speaking

As a teacher and speaker, it still happens to me. Almost all the time actually. Even after many years of practice. My Toastmasters colleagues often remind me, but I can’t seem to learn.

In my lectures and speeches, I deliver too much info, I speak too fast and afterwards, I wonder why I can’t manage to fit all the material I prepared.

In his great book Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina calls this practice force-feeding, and says it’s the most common mistake in communication. Actually, the problem isn’t so much the amount the information, but the time given to connect the dots afterwards.

Why do teachers and trainers overstuff their students?

They focus too much on the feeding (teaching) and too little on the digesting (learning). Don’t get me wrong. Lectures and speeches are one of the best ways to quickly communicate knowledge, but the problem is that very little learning occurs while they’re given. Learning is an active and internal process that takes place afterwards.

What can you do to remedy that?

The solution is to prioritize learners, and learners want focus and clarity. Most experts forget what it’s like to be a novice, and flood their audience with too much information.

As a professional speaker once told me, a good speech should only deliver one point, and your audience must be able to clearly identify what it is. Lectures should similarly focus on one core concept.

So how can I defeat that communication demon, and finally become a great communicator?

I must understand that less is more. I must slow down, eliminate needless information, and focus on the one thing I want my class or audience to remember after I stop speaking.

Why I Turned Off Talk Radio and Tuned In to Music

music vs talk radio

Until recently, I looked down on people who listened to music while commuting.

What a waste of time. Why not make the most of this downtime by getting fresh news and opinions. Don’t you want to be the most informed person in the room? It’s enticing, but no thanks. As I’ve come to realize, such input gets you nowhere.

Yes, you guessed it. I’m a new convert of the low information diet. Here’s why.

Whenever you commute or operate on autopilot, your brain is on one of the three following modes. You either focus on what is in your head (deep thinking), on your environment (info receiving), or have no focus at all (mind wandering).

There’s no way you can become a peak learner if you don’t develop your thinking power, and that means making more room for the first mode.

No doubt, the acquisition of new information is crucial. As Benjamin Bloom showed, higher-order thinking skills feed on it. But a peak learner must filter and limit incoming information.

Tim Ferris nailed it when he said that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. And guess what? Attention is the fuel of deep, clear and creative thinking. So any new information that doesn’t make you think should be sorted out as entertainment. 

Finally, our third mode of thinking, mind wandering, shouldn’t be dismissed as totally worthless. For starters, it’s our brain’s default mode of operation (we typically spend almost half our time there). But more importantly, this mode is highly conducive to creative insights, as it fosters idea associations.

During downtimes, try to reduce information input and daydreaming, and engage in effective thinking (i.e. leading to an outcome), such as problem solving, problem finding and planning (for your next blog post for instance).

So next time you’re driving, do like me. Tune in to music (or turn off all noise) and start thinking.