Jerry Burnaman

By Jerry Burnaman

I was in the third grade starring out the big window, daydreaming about being outdoors. It was a warm spring day, and we had no air conditioning in those days and I thought it would be cooler down by the creek.

Suddenly the teacher, Ms. Belle Nation, said emphatically: “Jerry, the idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” I wanted to say, but I knew better, so I thought, my mind is not idle. I’m thinking about catching crawfish in the creek that runs by Arthur Whitehead’s store, who was my grandfather.

Now, it’s a proven fact the mind is never idle. Even when we’re asleep dreaming is evidence of the mind’s activity.

In today’s fast-moving society, we have a problem with the shrinking attention span. The enormous information that’s available to us also brings many distractions.

A definition of attention span is the amount of concentration time a person spends on a task without distractions. The element of distraction occurs when the individual is drawn to another task or sensation.

Researchers in Canada surveyed the brain’s activities in 2,000 participants by using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Along with a study by Microsoft, they discovered that since the year 2,001—about the time the mobile revolution began—the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. Now, I have a hard time believing a person’s attention span is only eight seconds, although there is ample evidence it is shrinking.

Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, believes the attention span of humans is decreasing because of the advancement of technology. For example, most internet users spend less than one minute on the average website. Such jumping from one subject to another, disrupts focus and attention.

“Heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out relevant stimuli—they’re more easily distracted by multiple streams of media,” the report said.

Other studies give a different picture of the attention span. Here are the results I like better:

2-year-old—7 minutes

3-year-old—9 minutes

4-year-old—12 minutes

5-year-old—14 minutes

Average for adults—14 minutes

A focused mind increases a person’s attention span. Charles Dickens, a prolific writer said, “I never could have done without the habits of punctuality, order and diligence…the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”

Here are some ways to stay focused:

1. Write down your life’s goal. Review it regularly, perhaps every day. As time progresses, you will develop sub goals.

2. Prepare a to-do list. Write them down the night before the next day’s activities.

3. Get a good night’s sleep.

4. Train your brain to focus. It’s like a muscle and to expand your attention, it’s necessary to exercise it. Start the day by doing the most important tasks first.

5. Begin the new day with a quiet time of prayer and meditation.

The wise man Solomon wrote, “Give attention to know understanding…My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes” (Proverbs 4:1,20-21). Here are words of wisdom that gives strength for living in a world of distractions.

-Jerry Burnaman is pastor of Grays Prairie Missionary Baptist Church

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