How can we improve our attention and focus? Ironically, I came across this concept originally when I was knee-deep in a YouTube binge… 

Ever convince yourself that because you’re watching productivity videos, you’re actually doing something productive? That’s where I was, watching my 18th video in a row on ‘how to be more productive’, and not taking any action. At all.

Not productive.

Annoyingly, I can’t find the original clip. But the gist of the video really hit home; why do we focus more on what we consume for our bodies than our minds? What would happen if we started to treat our attention and focus, like our diet? 

Imagine your attention is like your diet for a second… Just as you wouldn’t binge on junk food without expecting some consequences, we also can’t be consuming junk media or wasting our focus on trivial matters without expecting some impact on our mental health. 

This small shift in perspective has really impacted the way I spend my day, and consider what I focus on. Let’s explore why treating your attention with the same care as your diet can lead to a more fulfilling, productive life.

How to improve your attention

The Hidden Calories of Attention

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s easy to overlook how we spend our attention. You’re supposed to have a job, pay taxes, and remember all your various passwords. All while scrolling through social media, binge-watching series, and keeping up with the latest news. It’s a lot to juggle, and often, our attention gets scattered, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

Just as empty calories from junk food can lead to physical health issues, consuming content without thought can lead to mental clutter and stress. Research by Dr. Gloria Mark (2008) found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus after an interruption. No matter how good you think you are at multitasking, constantly switching tasks and checking notifications can prevent us from diving deeply into any one activity. Much like grazing on snacks can prevent us from enjoying a proper meal.

Mindful Consumption: A Balanced Attention Diet

So, how do we ensure our attention diet is as balanced as our food diet? The answer lies in mindful consumption. Just as you plan your meals to include a variety of nutrients, you can plan your attention to include a mix of productive, relaxing, and enjoyable activities.

  • 🎯Start Your Day with Intention: Instead of diving straight into emails or social media, take a moment to plan your day. Decide what your main focus will be and set clear, achievable goals. This sets a positive tone and helps you stay on track.
  • 🌴Scheduled Breaks: Allow yourself regular breaks throughout the day. Use these breaks to recharge with activities that genuinely relax you, like a short walk or a few minutes of meditation. This prevents burnout and keeps your energy levels steady.
  • 🏆Quality Over Quantity: Just as you might choose a few pieces of high-quality chocolate over a whole bag of sweets, choose a few high-quality sources of information or entertainment. Read a well-researched article instead of skimming headlines, or watch a thought-provoking documentary instead of mindless TV.

Improve Your Attention: The Power of No

One of the most powerful tools to improve our attention and focus is learning to say no. It’s not about shutting out the world but about making deliberate choices. Psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister’s (1998) research on willpower shows that it’s a finite resource. Every decision you make throughout the day depletes your willpower, making it harder to make good choices later on. By saying no to unnecessary distractions, you conserve your mental energy for what truly matters.

Practical Applications

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to incorporate this into my day-to-day life is by becoming a bit more mindful of what I’m doing. Then trying to swap out some unhealthy habits with more healthy ones, one step at a time. 

So, next time you notice yourself on autopilot, doom scrolling, or seeing that judgy Netflix pop-up asking if you’re still watching for the 7th time that day… maybe switch things up a bit. Think about what would be a healthy way you can treat your mind at that moment.

  • Maybe try watching a documentary or educational video instead of a reality TV show
  • Spend some time each day in nature, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
  • Maybe next time you pick up your phone to scroll on social media – try picking up a book instead
  • Explore different ways to focus and give yourself a break, like the Pomodoro Technique

Feed Your Mind with Positive Input

Just as a healthy diet includes a variety of nutrients, a healthy attention diet includes a variety of mental inputs. Reading books, listening to educational podcasts, or engaging in meaningful conversations can enrich your mind and broaden your perspective. Choose content that challenges and inspires you rather than just entertains.

Conclusion: A Fulfilling Attention Diet

Treating your attention like your diet is about making conscious choices. You can improve your attention and focus. You can enhance your productivity and well-being. Just by being mindful of what you consume mentally, setting intentions, and taking breaks. It’s not about being perfect but about making better choices more often.

Note: It is NOT about putting pressure on yourself to be more productive all the time! Much like you’re always looking for a balanced diet with your food, the same should be true for how you feed your mind. It’s OK to have a treat now and then. The key is having that balance and your choice being ‘on purpose’, and not just because you’re on autopilot. 

So, the next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling or overwhelmed by notifications, remember: that your attention is a precious resource. Treat it with the same care and respect you give to your body. Maybe you’ll find yourself living a more focused, fulfilling life.

What do you think about this approach? What have you tried in the past? Let me know in the comments below!

See you soon!


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