How to Rebuild your Attention Span

If you’ve come to this article on your own, you probably know you need to rebuild your attention span. Good. Acceptance is always the first step to recovery!

The atrophy of our attention begins harmlessly enough. Click on a meme here, a Youtube video there, maybe scroll through Reddit for a few minutes. Share this, Tweet that. You’re not really seeing any of the content, just consuming it endlessly. Still, it’s not yet a problem. At least, it doesn’t seem to be. No need to rebuild your attention span—right?

Click, scroll, share, send, watch, pause. It goes on and on like this, until one day, while watching a pretty stellar movie on Netflix that might’ve entranced you years before, you can’t even stand to sit through 30 minutes.

Consider this article a test of your attention span.

Everybody has their own moment when they realize their attention span is burnt out, but it’s always like waking up from a dream. You realize in that one moment that you’ve been operating at 25% or 50% power for some indeterminate length of time. You wonder if your attention span has always been this bad, if you’ve somehow damaged it or lost its strength over the years, and most importantly, how to rebuild your attention span.

The good and bad news here is that you can rebuild this vital aspect of consciousness, but it will require exercising the same muscles that you’ve allowed to weaken along the way.

Our phones don't typically help us rebuild our attention span...

At its core, our mind is like a circus animal. It requires training, and it responds to the stimuli it receives in response to its actions. If we tell our mind that it feels good to watch Youtube all day and not work, it’s not going to have any drive to work. Big surprise! If we train our minds to expect fast food every night, they’re going to reject broccoli. It’s like training any other animal. We need to be consistent, firm, and compassionate.

It’s worth noting that a recent report (linked here) has stated that the attention span of the average person hasn’t declined over time. I would argue this is a faulty conclusion. For one thing, this report was mostly compiled using business professionals, who spend most of their day devoted to pressing and attention-demanding tasks. Not the average joe prowling social media.

Furthermore, the report also noted that the respondents required more and more “engaging” content to remain invested. If we, as a species, need to keep upping the ante for what holds our attention, it’s not a good thing. Not at all. It requires continual advancement of flashy lights, sounds, and alluring content.

If you truly want to rebuild your attention span, you need to learn to be engaged with less, not more.

Why Rebuild your attention span?

Let’s first look at why it’s so upsetting to have that attention span shorten on you. (If you’re still reading this article by now, you’re already flexing those muscles!). When you were a kid, you probably did things that required some degree of focus.

Attention span is directly correlated with work output.

You read books, watched cartoons, played outside, and generally invested your time and attention in the activity at hand. When we grow up, we often feel that we’ve “lost the magic” of being alive, or that we’ve somehow grown bored of living. The truth is, our experience of life has never changed. What has changed, in fact, is our conscious appreciation of the texture of life. When we stop sinking our awareness into something with full vigor and concentration, we stop noticing the small, enjoyable details of these activities, too.

Think about how much more you enjoy a captivating theatrical experience than a binge-watching session on Netflix. If your default mode of watching something is to cycle between your phone, food, and the show itself, you never really get to the meat of the experience. You don’t allow yourself to be swept away by the richness of what’s in front of you.

This isn’t just true for media, but for things like food or even sex. When our mind is always oscillating between different desires and thoughts, we can’t enjoy what’s present in awareness. If our attention span is weak, the best steak on Earth could taste the same as frozen burritos. This is because the more present we are, the more we actually live and appreciate our lives.

Conversely, we can enjoy a frozen burrito with untold gusto if we pay attention to every aspect of the flavor, temperature, and texture of the meal from start to finish. The Stoics and Buddhist monks are famous for this approach to eating, and in fact, to every part of their day. Through attention, small delights become euphoric.

The rebuilding process

So, how do you rebuild your attention span? That’s the million dollar question. The answer, as stated above, is simple yet demanding. Your attention learns from what you do, so it’s all about practicing the investment of attention in each and every task.

From the time you wake up to the time you sleep, you’ll need to work on being there, being present, and savoring every aspect of consciousness that accompanies your day: the light, the sounds, the colors, the feelings, the tastes, the smells. This is a herculean task for most of us in the modern world, however, so let’s look at some building blocks we can use to support that larger goal.

For starters, try switching off your media connection throughout the day. Whenever you use a piece of technology (a laptop, a phone, a tablet, whatever) without knowing exactly why you intend to use it, you send a message to your circus animal of a mind that it’s perfectly fine, and even good, to spend half the day browsing the internet endlessly. You wire your mind to expect amusement from outside sources.

A timer is one of the best tools to help you rebuild your attention span.

However, if we sit down with our technology with an express desire and purpose for its use, we sidestep this problem. We do what has to be done, and then we set it down, preferably in another room.

Next, you should sink your proverbial teeth into activities that demand attention. Active attention, that is. Things like reading, drawing, singing, or writing all require you to be fully engaged, and help you to notice when your mind has strayed off the task.

Set a timer, if it helps you to keep your focus and stay on the ball. I recommend intervals of at least 30 minutes to properly condition the mind. Over time, you can increase these work slots until you feel comfortable doing them without constraints.

Meditation has insane results for rebuilding your attention span, among other things.

Meditation is the most potent tool in this game, however. Meditation is the pure act of focus and presence with everything else stripped away. It’s not easy, and not always fun, but it’s rewarding. It gives you direct feedback on when you’re “there” and when you’re thinking about a Big Mac, even if the habit of noticing that your attention has slipped away takes some time to develop.

You can meditate anywhere, doing anything, but a sitting, breath-focused program will offer tangible benefits that you can take with you during the rest of your day.

My final tip is to reflect often on what you really want in your life. This is easier said than done, but bear with me. Everything we do is in service of something. Even if it’s getting donuts and coffee. We do things to achieve a particular aim, whether it’s sensory gratification, advancement in our careers, enjoyment of time with loved ones, or even going to the bathroom for relief.

When we don’t have an express idea of what we want from life, we flip-flop around and waste our time with endless scrolling through endless websites. But when we write down our goals and know precisely where to go and why, it’s easy to keep our eyes on the prize. If you want to develop focused paths to these goals or learn more targeted tips to rebuilding your attention span, feel free to reach out to me for a free coaching consultation today.

If you made it to the end (and didn’t skip), consider yourself a champion.

Meditation Supplements to Supercharge your Practice

Everybody’s looking for an edge in life. This is true for all hobbies, activities, and pursuits we undertake, including the ways in which we probe our minds. Despite the noncompetitive, ostensibly relaxing nature of meditation, we’re still drawn to trying to boost our performance and get the most out of our time on the cushion. And why shouldn’t we? Any meditator, from a greenhorn to a Zen master, will tell you that falling asleep during a session isn’t very productive, nor is spending your entire session dreaming about chocolate cake. This is where meditation supplements come in.

Meditation doesn't require this many supplements to be effective...

While meditation is not about hitting specific goals or reaching new heights of trippy experiences, there’s always going to be an optimal state in which we can make progress. This state can be reached more easily when we do basic things such as sleep our full amount of hours, avoid heavy meals before meditating, and pick a consistent time each day to undertake our practice. In this way, meditating is a lot like lifting weights. We’re aiming for consistency and progress between sessions, even if we’re not straining to achieve something specific.

Because of this, I believe there are some key meditation supplements that can help to optimize our practice and provide a more directed, sharp experience of our sensory perceptions. At this point, you may be thinking it seems like sacrilege to mix supplements and meditation. After all, isn’t meditation supposed to be about the natural state of our minds, however they are?

Yes, of course.

And yet even the greatest Zen monks on Earth still drink green tea to keep themselves on the ball, thus utilizing caffeine—a tried and true supplement—to elevate their awareness. With that in mind, I’ll be laying out my personal recommendations that have helped me in my daily practice, as well as providing my logic for their inclusion. I do recommend taking these meditation supplements in a fasted state, and practicing in the same state, for the best results.

Before we get into the meat of this topic, I’d like to make it expressly clear that I have absolutely zero affiliation with any of the brands that produce any of the supplements herein. I don’t use affiliate links, I don’t have sponsors, I don’t even have name brands of most of the stuff here! My only recommendation is that you search on Amazon for most of these brands, not use GNC, as you’ll get real user feedback on whether it works as opposed to a commissioned store employee trying to load you up with nonsense.

Green tea has historically aided monks in meditation for thousands of years!

With no further ado, here’s my “stack.”

L-Theanine: This amino acid is becoming more and more popular as a focusing agent, as it has the unique ability to induce relaxation without the typical drowsy effects found in conventional sedatives. L-theanine has been linked to a range of benefits, including sleep quality, anxiety reduction, and blood pressure management. L-theanine is found in green and black teas, and may partially explain why these drinks are so popular among monastic circles. On its own, however, L-theanine doesn’t work many wonders. To get the most out of it, I recommend pairing it with its natural partner in crime, which also appears in green and black tea. I’m talking, of course, about…

Caffeine: This one needs no introduction or explanation. Millions of people around the world depend on caffeine each and every morning to give them the proper kick and get off to work on time. But caffeine also has a dark side that can hinder meditation, and anybody who’s pounded down an energy drink or two can attest to it. In large doses or without the tempering effects of a meal, caffeine can cause acute bouts of anxiety, racing thoughts, and excessive energy. That’s why L-theanine is such an excellent opposing force. It brings out the best of caffeine’s energy-promoting effects while blunting its jagged edges.

Ashwaghanda: This is a supplement I’d file under the category of “use five days, cycle off for two days.” Ashwaghanda is derived from a natural plant source, and has been examined in an increasingly vast amount of studies that explore everything from ADHD treatment to pain management. I personally started using ashwanghanda as a treatment for anxiety management and reduction, and still use it to this day because of its energetic, mood-bolstering powers. Ashwaghanda is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body cope with a variety of changes and physical states that would otherwise induce stress. This makes it an excellent tool for priming your mind and body to probe the sensory appearances in consciousness, and also creates a gentle, borderline euphoric fuzz to sink into, once adequately focused.

Rhodiola Rosea: Like ashwaghanda, this naturally derived supplement is an adaptogen with a shocking number of therapeutic applications. Rhodiola rosea is grown in the cold, inhospitable parts of Europe and Asia, including parts of Siberia. It’s been shown to have incredible effects on treating anxiety, fatigue, insulin resistance, exercise performance, cognition, and much more. Like ashwaghanda, I cycle this supplement on and off to avoid tolerance buildup as well as any unanticipated negative effects that haven’t yet been dissected through studies. To date, however, rhodiola rosea has been a consistent and potent force in aiding my focus and mental acuity both on and off the cushion.

Vitamin D: If you live in a place with even partial cloud cover for a sizable portion of the year, you need to be supplementing vitamin D. It’s one of the most important vitamins for proper brain function, and its deficiency has been linked to all kinds of oxidative stress, depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and so on. Simply put, vitamin D is a must-have for any functioning human, let alone meditators. It may not have the immediate “zing” of the other supplements on this list, but it’s essential, and will make you feel fantastic in the long run.

So there you have it. There’s my optimal meditation supplements list. Let me know in the comments below if you have a different stack, if you have personal experience (positive or negative!) using any of these supplements, or if you simply have a question I didn’t answer in the post above.