A Youthful Voice...The Advocate Youth Page Schyler Angell

Associate Editor,
Advocate Youth Page

Have you ever reflected over your day’s conversations while driving down the highway, had a good idea in the shower or stayed up at night thinking about the future?

These scenarios are not out of the ordinary. It’s no coincidence that our most in-depth thoughts come to us while we’re doing a task considered boring.

In the past, I have been aware of these kinds of occurrences, but I did not understand why they happened, and their importance until listening to a 2019 Ted Talk by Chris Bailey titled, “How to Get your Brain to Focus”.

The speaker and boredom enthusiast, Chris Bailey, begins his speech by recounting the effects he felt after limiting his smartphone use to just 30 minutes a day.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve been warned of the effects of the pings and beeps coming from my smartphone. It’s no secret that each notification takes up time and mental energy, but there’s much more to what Chris found. Less time on all smart phone applications lowered Chris’ mental stimulation. This resulted into three things; a larger attention span, more ideas and more plans for the future.

But, that was only the start. His interest led him to conduct interviews and research, concluding in a 25,000 word study. He found that we only focus on one subject for about 40 seconds. Contrary to some beliefs, this is not caused by distraction, but instead overstimulation.

In an effort to understand what effects being less stimulat-ed would have, Chris decided to further his studies by doing a boring task for an hour everyday for a month. The task of reading the Itunes terms and conditions, sitting “on hold” on the phone and watching a clock tick, had the same effect of limited time on his cellphone. In just one week, he lessened his mind’s stimulation and enlarged his attention span, all because he gave his mind the chance to wander.

The quote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” by J. R. R. Tolkien, stands true in many aspects of life, including our focus and attention. When we let our minds “rest” by not focusing on something, our best thoughts occur.

In fact, the idea of this very article topic came to me while completing the monotonous task of hosing out our cattle trailer!

In similar situations while our minds are relaxed, 12% of thoughts are about the past, 28% of thoughts are about the pre-sent, 48% is about the future and the rest is considered “dull time” where thoughts and ideas are not related to time.

According to Chris Bailey, we need to have two fundamental shifts regarding our attention. Firstly, we do not need to “fit more in”. The hustle mentality of cramming activities, events and projects, can be damaging. Instead, our minds should have time to wander. Simply standing in line, walking without looking at our phones, or coloring create the space needed to come up with our best thoughts and ideas.

Secondly, we need to understand that distraction is not what interrupts our focus. Instead, distraction should be considered a symptom of an overstimulated mind.

In an effort to become less stimulated, Chris introduces his audience to a two-week challenge of disconnecting from technology every night and/or one day a week. The goal is to become less stimulated and to reconnect with the real world.

Although this is a lot easier said than done, the positive effects can easily be seen. With distracted moments and an over-stimulated mind, our lives have less of a clear direction.

Although I am no expert in putting these ideas into practice, I have found a couple strategies that help me keep a clear mind. Recently, I have not been using social media until after at least 10 in the morning. This gives me more time to focus on my top priorities of the day, and a better start to my morning. Similarly, journaling or reading at the end of my day, opposed to watching TV or looking at my phone is a much more fulfilling end to the day.

I know I have room for improvement when it comes to creating a less stimulated day, but learning about the benefits, and starting to put the ideas into practice is a good start. When we make an effort to create space for our thoughts, we’ll reap the benefits of an increase in creativity, focus, productivity, ideas and plans.

Ultimately, resulting in a better life. As Chris states, the “The state of our attention is what determines the state of our lives.”