There is a conflict within my personality.
I have a gift where people want to open up to me. It happens even with strangers, and it’s a little like when people find out that someone is a doctor and want talk about their boils-I get all kinds of interesting stories thrown my way from people who have little to no personal interest in me.
Most of the time, I have a vested interest in the person sharing. Especially when it’s a friend, I want to do the best I can to serve them and be there for them through whatever they’re going through.
The problem is, I get easily distracted. I have a self-flattering theory that I am the psychology version of a “meatball surgeon” in a M.A.S.H. unit during the Korean War. Instead of piecing together parts of a bullet hole-riddled stomach, I was designed to help shoulder the emotional burden for people during emergency situations. Emergencies are fast-paced, require quick responses, and short-term, patchwork solutions. None of those things require having to pay attention for extended periods of time.
A real surgeon I am not.
As an extravert, I naturally do best being in front of audiences. As a leader, I should be fully capable of becoming the audience. Listening well to people is imperative for building influence and for being a good leader in general.
Points For Attention-Span Development:
- Interact. Although I should still let the other person do most of the talking during situations where they need to unburden, there is a concept referred to as “active listening”: remember what is said, ask questions that engage deeper reflection on the part of the speaker, further clarify a murky concept, or encourage the speaker to expound upon what they are saying.
- This works with textbooks and articles as well, only the interaction there is doing things like note-taking, and even affiliating a piece of music to the information for enhanced recall.
- Meditate. When alone, I need to consider tuning out all distractions and focusing on one concept in my mind for periods of time that I gradually extend. Eventually, I’ll add distractions and see if I am able to focus on the singular concept despite what is going on around me. Such mental exercises are often thought to increase overall ability to focus in real life.
- Monitor. Sometimes, when someone has been the sole speaker for ten minutes or more on topics that are not situation critical, they are being poor conversationalists. As a “bottom-line” personality, I will sometimes politely interrupt. Although having a long attention-span is a good thing, I still need to be the guardian of my time. I should not enable people to take advantage of my willing ear. There are those who are natural talkers and those who are natural listeners-it’s good for both types to meet in the middle and actually have an interactive discussion. Think of conversation like a dance-if someone is speaking for more than five minutes on a given topic, it is polite to check and see if who you are speaking with is interested. During that pause, it is polite to either contribute to the conversation yourself, or be honest and politely change the subject.
For more information on extending your attention span, check out this lifehacker article from 2010: