The science of distraction

Our brains are wired to seek new experiences. That’s how we’ve evolved from living in caves to living on Facebook. But while that level of curiosity may drive progress, it can be a bit of a pain when you’ve got a huge spreadsheet to get done by lunchtime. Our minds wander, so here are some ways to stay focused.

Take a few steps

A short walk can help break down the tension in your mind and restore your focus, says Robert Epstein, a research assistant based in San Diego. A study in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology also found that people perform memory exercises better when they’re walking rather than sitting. Sometimes two feet are better than four legs.

Food for focus

An empty stomach can be incredibly distracting. Consider instead starting your day with a bowl of porridge, or even vegetables. People who eat leafy greens once a day have been shown to enjoy the same level of focus as someone five years their junior. Food can also work as a reward for getting things done (think cookies rather than carrots).

Stories that grip you

It’s not just at work when we need to focus. Even books and films require our concentration. That’s why the social psychologist Susan Perry suggests using entertainment to train your attention span. A challenging novel or movie works best – something that absorbs you as a reward for resisting distractions (not including popcorn).

What distracts you, and how do you keep your focus on track?

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