How to Get Your Brain to Focus | Chris Bailey | TEDxManchester


Translator: Viviane P.
Reviewer: Amanda Chu A few years ago, I began to observe
something in my own behavior that made me a bit uncomfortable. And that was that from the moment
that I woke up to the end of the day, my life was a series of screens. I started the day with the thing that woke me up
first thing in the morning, my phone, and so I sat there in bed watching
various cooking videos on Instagram and bouncing around between a bunch
of different applications. But then it was time
to get out of bed and cook breakfast, and so the thing that I focused then on, in addition to the omelette in the pan, was the iPad that was
right next to the oven. And then it was time to do some work, and so I went to a different screen which was attached
to another screen itself. All the while, this little devil on my wrist was tapping and beeping
and blooping and distracting me as I was trying
to get important stuff done. But there was one particular offender
out of all of these different devices that I wasted more time on
than anything else. That was this dastardly thing: my phone. I could spend hours
on this thing every single day. And so I decided to essentially,
for all intents and purposes, get rid of the thing for a month. As an experiment, I thought, “I’m going to live on this thing
for just 30 minutes every single day at a maximum.” And so this is the amount
of time I have for maps, this is the amount of time
to call my mother, this is the amount of time I have for everything that I could
possibly want to do, to listen to music, to listen to podcasts, and I observed what happened
during this time. It took about a week to adjust downward into a new,
lower level of stimulation, but once I did, I noticed that three
curious things began to happen. First, my attention span grew. It was like I could focus on things, not effortlessly, but with much more ease than I could
before this experiment started. In addition to this, though,
as I was going about the world and especially when my mind
wandered a bit, I had more ideas that my mind arrived at, and on top of this, I had more plans and thoughts
about the future. Getting rid of one simple device
led to these three effects. Why? Noticing this a few years back
led me on this long journey to get to the bottom of what it takes
to focus in a world of distraction. I pored over hundreds of research papers
from front to back at my office. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched
one of those crime shows where somebody’s solving a murder. And so they have this big Bristol board, and there’s string attached to papers attached to memos
attached to newspaper clippings – this is like what the state
of my office was. I flew out to meet experts
around the world who study focus; I conducted more experiments on myself until the point I had
25,000 words of research notes about why this is the case. How does technology influence
our attention and our ability to focus? I want to start with the attention spans that we have. This is how we pay attention
to the world around us and how much control
we have over our focus. The research around
this particular area is fascinating. It turns out that when we do work
in front of a computer, especially when our phone is nearby, we focus on one thing for just 40 seconds before we switch to doing something else, and when we have things like Slack open
as we’re doing some work, this lowers to 35 seconds. But the reason that this is the case
is not what we might think, after looking at the research. We think the problem
is that our brains are distracted. But after looking at the research, this is what I’ve come to know
as a symptom for the deeper problem, which runs much more deeply –
it’s the root cause of this distraction. It’s not that we’re distracted;
it’s that our brains are overstimulated. It’s that we crave distraction
in the first place. Our brains love these tiny little nuggets of information and social media and email and these things that we do
over the course of the day. There’s even a mechanism in our mind
called the “novelty bias,” by which our mind rewards us
with a hit of dopamine, one of those wonderful pleasure chemicals, the same one we get when we eat and order
a whole medium pizza from Domino’s, you know, the same one
that we get when we make love. We get that same stimulation
when we check Facebook. We get this dopamine
coursing through our mind. And so we not only crave distraction, but our mind rewards us for seeking out and finding
distraction in the first place. So, this is the state of our minds today. We’re at this hyperstimulated state where we bounce around between these bunch
of different objects of attention that are very, very
stimulating for our mind. And so I thought, “Okay, if the phone
had this impact on my attention span, what if I lowered how stimulated
I was even more, still?” And so, you know,
this feeling that we experience when we go from being
in a state of high stimulation into a state of low stimulation, it has a name. That name is called “boredom,” (Laughs) you know, this restlessness that we feel
when we have this super busy week and then we’re lying on the couch
on a Sunday afternoon, thinking, “Alright, well, what am I doing now?” So, I put out a call to the readers
of my website and I asked them, “What is the most boring thing
that you can think of doing? I’m going to make myself bored
for an hour a day, for a month.” And so I did some stuff that I still am
upset about from my readers, to this day. Day one, I read the iTunes
terms and conditions for one hour. (Laughter) It’s actually shorter and more readable
than you might think. Day four, I waited on hold with
Air Canada’s baggage claims department. It’s very easy – This is the trick: if you want to make yourself bored, don’t call the reservations department,
call the baggage claim people because you’re going to wait hours,
if you ever get through at all. Day 19, I counted
all the zeroes that I could in the first 10,000 digits of pi. Ugh. Day 24, I watched a clock tick, tick for one hour. And 27 other activities this month. Jeez. I still think back. But curiously, I noticed the exact same effects
as I did during the smartphone experiment. It took about a week
for my mind to adjust downward into a newer, lower level of stimulation, and this maps, curiously,
on top of research that shows that it takes
our mind about eight days to fully calm down and rest, like when we’re on vacation,
as an example. Our vacations need to be longer
than they are today. But I also noticed
that my attention span expanded. I was able to focus
even more effortlessly because I wasn’t surrounded
by fewer distractions, but my mind was so much less stimulated that it did not seek the distraction
in the first place. But the fun part were these ideas
and plans that struck me that didn’t before, and the reason that this is the case is because my mind had a chance
to wander more often. There’s a great quote that I love
that you might be familiar with from J. R. R. Tolkien, where he says that
“not all those who wander are lost,” and the exact same thing is true,
it turns out, with regard to our focus, with regard to our attention. If you think back to when your best,
most brilliant ideas strike you, you’re rarely focused on something. Maybe this morning
you were taking a shower, or maybe some morning in the past, and then your mind had a chance to connect
several of the constellations of ideas that were swirling around in your mind to create an idea that would
never have materialized otherwise if you were focused on something else, on your phone, for example. This is a mode, especially when we do this deliberately,
when we deliberately let our mind wander; I call this mode “scatter focus.” And the research shows that it lets our mind come up with ideas,
it lets our mind plan because of where our mind wanders to. This is fascinating. It turns out that when we just
let our attention rest, it goes to three main places: We think about the past,
we think about the present, and we think about the future. But we think about the past
less than we might think, only about 12% of the time, and often we’re recalling ideas
in these thought-wandering episodes. But the present, which is a much more
productive place to wander – we wander to think
about the present 28% of the time. And this is, you know, something
as simple as you’re typing up an email and you can’t find a way
to phrase something because it’s very delicate,
maybe it’s political, you go and walk to another room,
to another room of the house, the office, and the solution hits you because your mind
had a chance to approach it and prod at that problem
from different directions. But here’s the thing: our minds wander
to think about the future more than the past
and the present combined. Whenever our mind is wandering,
we think about the future 48% of the time. This is why when we’re taking a shower,
we plan out our entire day, even though it hasn’t started yet. This is called
our mind’s prospective bias, and it occurs when our mind wanders. If you’re good with math, or maths, I should say – not in Canada anymore – these numbers don’t add up to 100. It’s because the rest of the time,
our mind is dull, it’s blank, or it doesn’t have an idea inside of it
that is rooted in time. But whatever it is for you
that lets your mind wander, something that’s simple, something that doesn’t
consume your full attention. Mine happens to be something that is not necessarily stereotypic
of my age and gender demographic, but I love to knit. Knitting is one of my favorite hobbies; I knit in planes, I knit on trains,
I knit in hotel rooms. I was knitting in the hotel room
before this event today because it helps calm you down,
it helps settle your nerves. And I come up with so many ideas
when I knit, I have a notepad next to me. But whatever it is for you – it might be taking that extra long shower,
it might be taking a bath, upgrading your shower to a bath so you can soak not just with your body
but with your ideas as well. It could be simple; if you’re at work walking
from one room to another in the office – very simple change – but if you don’t use your phone
during that walk, your mind will go to the meeting
that you’re about to attend, it’ll go to the call
that you were just on, it’ll wander to the ideas
that are circulating, and it’ll make you
more creative in this way. It could be something
as simple as waiting in line and just, I don’t know, waiting in line. It could be getting a massage. You know, whatever it is
that lets your mind – I love this picture so much – (Laughter) whatever you love doing. Here’s a pro tip: Ask your masseuse to let you
have a notepad in the session because ideas always come to you
and you’re always incubating things, so capture them so you can act upon them later. But I think, after doing
this deep dive into the research, we need to make two fundamental shifts with regard to how we think
about our attention. We think that we need to fit more in – you know, there’s all this talk
about “hustling.” I’m an anti-hustler. I’m one of the laziest people
you’ll ever meet, and I think that’s what gives me
so many ideas to talk and write about. We don’t need to fit more in. We’re doing enough; we’re doing too much. We’re doing so much
that our mind never wanders anymore. It’s sad. This is when our best ideas
and plans come to us. We need more space. If you look at what allows traffic
to move down a highway, what allows it to move forward
isn’t how fast cars are moving, as you might expect, it’s how much space
exists between the cars that allows traffic to move forward. Our work and our life are the same way. The second shift: we like to think of distraction
as the enemy of focus. It is not. It is a symptom of why
we find it difficult to focus, which is the fact
that our mind is overstimulated. I have a challenge for you. It’s a two-week challenge, but it’s a challenge to make your mind
a bit less stimulated and simply notice: what happens to your attention? How many ideas do you get? How does your focus change? How many plans do you make? So, for two weeks,
make your mind less stimulated. There are so many great features
on phones, on devices that’ll let us eliminate a lot of the time
we waste on our devices. Use those features, not only to become aware
of how you spend your time but how you can spend less
so you have more ideas. Have a disconnection ritual every evening. One of my favorite daily rituals: I disconnect from the Internet completely from 8pm to 8am. My fiancée and I, we have
a weekly disconnection ritual, a technology Sabbath every Sunday, so we can disconnect
from the digital world and reconnect with the physical world,
the real, actual world. Rediscover boredom –
you don’t have to do it for an hour. Please don’t call Air Canada.
It’s just a world of hell. But rediscover boredom,
just for a few minutes. Lay on the couch,
and where does your mind go? And scatter your attention. You’ll find some
remarkably fruitful things in that attentional zone. If there’s one thing
that I have found to be true after doing this deep dive
into this world on how we focus, it’s that the state of our attention
is what determines the state of our lives. If we’re distracted in each moment, those moments of distraction
and overstimulation build up and accumulate to create a life that feels
more distracted and overwhelming, like we don’t have a clear direction. But when we become less stimulated,
when we make our mind more calm, we get the benefits of added productivity
and focus and ideas and creativity, but we also live
a better life because of it. Thank you so much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How to Get Your Brain to Focus | Chris Bailey | TEDxManchester

  1. I have so much difficulities to focus. I always having a hard time to understand direction from someone. This video helps me a lot to reflect myself! Use less gadget. Go it ❤

  2. Thank you so much for this outstanding presentation! I experienced this myself one week ago when I tested the same. I decided only to use my mobile when I really need to.

  3. i think this man gave a wonderful talk, but as a person who struggles to focus, i didn't find a lot of points that i could use. Most of this guy's points and solutions were aimed towards the distractions caused by technological devices, which isn't really something i struggle with much. His solution to meditate and let your mind wander was really good, but as a student, i find no time to sit down at all! i come home, sleep, wake up, and study. Only recently, i've been feeling very muddled and foggy in my head. It was never like this before. i was a very hard-working and motivated person, but now, not only do i not have time for myself, but struggle with the constant tiredness and feeling of dissatisfaction that comes with not finishing any work. i'm trying to adjust my time management but the only problem is that i'm a bit slow when i could go faster and save time, but then again, it's because of how my brain is just off. i'm also trying to do some of the recommended study focus tips and trying not to nap in the evenings go to bed on proper time. it's a little hard, and i gave up a few weeks ago, but i'm gonna try again.

  4. This is the most common topic these days, but he brought new information and personal experience to convey the message.

  5. Some practices he recommended:
    1. Limit your time with technology – higher attention span.
    2. Detox from technology- more time for other plans/become more organized.
    3. Do a hobby/activity that takes less focus or concentration- become more creative.

  6. I love how he's literally jumping up and down with excitement as he was speaking about his research. It was like he just couldn't wait to tell it to us. I loved it.

  7. Some very good points here. I broke my smart phone about 3 months ago and purposely made myself not get a new phone and stay away from distractions, I didn't know the exact reasons, but I knew smart phones are a huge distraction. I was without a phone for 2 and a half months, doing a lot of meditation and eventually discovered ted talk channel. 3 weeks ago I got a phone and sold my xbox and got rid of my lap top. So now I do have a phone but try my best to use my time wisely on it. I understood that the amount of time I waste on the xbox and lap top is a lot, and I can use the time to better my self. Which is paying off right before my eyes !! Great video !

  8. Yeah sure, I'll ask my Masseuse to let me have a note pad…LMAO! I was watching videos about quieting the mind through Yoga and somehow I came to a video where the guy is encouraging people to get sucked into their thoughts. No wonder the business world is so screwed up and destroying our planet.

  9. Great, I focus to listen to him to finish his speech before come to comment section.

    I get bored in early minutes, but I'm patiently waiting till the mid, wether keep listen or skip. But hey, it turns out really well explained. This is great

  10. The reason for not focusing is not distraction, distraction is teh symptom of stimulation is you stimulate the mind then it will crave distraction its a cycle like stimulation->distraction ->not able to focus—–>—->……..>, so practice boredom to make your mind less stimulant and it will crave less distraction and you will be able to focus more.
    This ted talk teaches me the real reason of not able to focus adn i have realised this in my life too,thank Chris Bailey

  11. Since I have ADHD my mind wonders a lot on a consistent basis, but I also use my phone a lot every day. Is that normal or just a symptom of ADHD?

  12. I’m totally agree with Chris because we spend too much time for doing nothing. I think we should change and improve relationship with our brain and body. Only with this we will be able to control us. In my opinion, it would be better to meditate more and spend less time on gadgets. And you will see how you have changed to a better way!

  13. This is pretty cool 🤔 I've recently been addicted to music on phone, so much that I started to find it hard to study without music. My brain got so used to overstimulation that it gets bored way too easily. Gonna work on using my phone less ✊✊

  14. if you guys are interested in this kind of subjects of deep focusing and working, you should try Cal Newport books

  15. Try and see if you can connect all the ideas:
    1 meditation
    2 being present
    3 less is more
    4 enjoy the wonderful surprise
    5 focused vs scattered modes of thinking

  16. I don't know how brain system work exactly but I can focus on each & every thing by challenging myself to remind that think after its end.
    Believe me if you get this done correctly, it will be your mind who force you Please focus you have self test after this.
    How much you can feed in your mind depends, how much you focus.

  17. Another guy who thinks he knows the answer and will show you the way so he can seek attention and be rich. Please stop looking YouTube videos for your problems and look out for a professional.

  18. Do you think this guy could have focused enough to shave for his Ted Talk? He looks like he just worke up and was late so forgot to take a shower.

  19. Me after watching this video: I am gonna be more focused from now on.
    Me after watching more 24 TEDtalks videos: Okay, from tomorrow.

  20. electronic devices / social media if not use on what is only necessary are time killers. social media platforms are addictive, been there.. wasted a lot of time, now i have learned to use them only on what i think “necessary” like studying, research, important messages to contacts… i’m happier, i have a lot of time to meditate thus focus on important things only.

  21. I urge everyone who needs to focus to watch this video completely. Instead of doing a boring thing, you can actually do meditation, that is close your eyes and chant a single god's name (your favorite one as per your belief system(s)) for 15 minutes to 1 hour. This will help your mind wander and later stay focused at the same time. Good video.

  22. The thing is I’m sure that this overwhelming distraction is the reason most teenagers these days including me feel sad and depressed because they’re overwhelming their minds so much that it needs a break we’re using technology wrong people please tell others

  23. This explains why I get all the best preparation strategy ideas only during the last phase of exam preparation, as this is the time when I'm most focused on studies and the usage of smartphone hits a low.

  24. Non competitive running particularly in the countryside has this effect on me,slowing my mind and shifting it to a problem solving mode.

  25. He is so enthusiastic and positive about free thoughts. When I stop distracting myself, my brain envisions my mom's dead body. She died 3 and a half years ago. Still happens. Also, it makes me remember to hate myself. I'm sure many ppl experience trauma and negative thoughts and feel this as well.

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