Distraction and Attention

August Issue 2021

Attention span is a very talked about trait and something we hear a lot about as dance teachers; either from parents telling us that their children can’t focus for very long, or we see that our students have lost attention, or even as dancers and teachers we begin to feel our own mind begin to wander somewhere else during a class.

As humans our attention span is the amount of time spent concentrating on one task before becoming distracted when our attention is uncontrollably diverted to another activity or sensation.  

It is often found that children who take part in physical activities such as dance and gymnastics do have a longer attention span than their peers who don’t have such structured hobbies. It has also been noted in a study in 2006 by Medical Life Sciences that dance classes can be a successful method to improve children and adolescents that suffer from behavioural issues such as ADHD. The discipline as well as the expenditure of excess energy is a recipe for improved focus.  

Most recently during the lockdowns and the return to classes in person as a teacher I’ve noticed the demise of focus across my students of all ages and also my own personal ability to concentrate for longer periods of time than I used to before. Now, don’t worry! I don’t mean during a class where I’m teaching your child, (they’re in very safe hands, I promise!) but more when I am trying to focus upon an admin task or creative preparation session, I find my mind begins to wander. 

There are quite a few studies that you can read up on that look into the connections between social and fast media sources and their effects upon focus and attention span. They delve into the links between mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, TikTok or even an online news source and how it leads to disruptive attention spans. Our brains continue changing and growing throughout our lifetimes and can be shaped by what we do and practice. Social Media and access to information at our fingertips begins to accustom our brains to operate only under short timescales, leading to a deficit in attention in tasks with greater longevity and less instant results. I began to think that maybe the additional use of technology and the internet during the lockdowns has had more of an effect that we think upon us. Isolation and lockdown is something that none of us as humans were ready for or wired to be able to cope with easily, we all had our own coping techniques and without technology it would have been harder to function and communicate, however looking back I spent an incessant amount of time scrolling as I can imagine we all did especially children and teenagers. Could this be that during the time of the pandemic we actually habituated our minds for short term focus tasks, which in turn has now affected our normal life focus now we begin to resume life as we knew it?

As we return to life with longer tasks and classes that require our attention we are beginning to recondition and force longer concentration so it becomes a habit but there are ways that we can improve our attention span by limiting the amount of time our mind has to multitask on the internet and social media. 

Here are my top three tips to limit aimless scrolling for dancers and dance people; 

  • No phones whilst eating. It’s easy to pick up your phone in your break between lessons or performances, try to swap that out for some healthy eating and relaxation time. You’ll be able to focus better on what you’re doing after the break. Only have one object in your hands at one time – that’s an apple or a phone for example.
  • Download an iBook! If you’re adamant that you need that time to look at your phone – instead of scrolling through social media, read a book on your phone instead. You could even download a book that is going to help you improve your mindset- there’s loads of examples of those on my @rosinareads Instagram.
  • In your free time as dancers, which there is never very much of, focus on one task at a time. Set yourself a timer and do that one task for a period of time. The app’s Pomodoro or Forest are super cool at giving you an incentive to focus on one thing at a time. 

Rosina Andrews

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