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Holding My Interest

My mind was blown last week with a Modern Mrs. Darcy post about interest span.

So you know your attention span — the length of time we pay attention to something before becoming distracted (about 8 seconds) — and how segments of the self-help movement are focused on helping you lengthen your attention span?

But what about your interest span?  When you’re interested in something, you stick with it for a long time.  You watch the whole episode.  You read the whole book.  She writes,

It’s not our attention span that causes us to zone out when we’re bored; it’s our interest span. We don’t lose focus when we care about what we’re watching, or reading, or listening to. And, interestingly, the thing that’s most likely to hook us, to get us to care, is empathy.

So she points out that certain things make us zone out and check our phones or fidget or daydream, and other things keep our focus.  She has started asking herself important questions: “when am I tempted to zone out? When do I get distracted, and what do I do when I am? Do I truly not struggle (much) to pay attention to the things I care deeply about?”

That’s what I mean — mind blown.

Because… there are plenty of times I don’t zone out.  Sometimes it’s because the stakes are high (driving).  Other times it’s because I am so into what I’m reading or watching or whom I’m talking to.  But… yeah… there are other times when I grab the phone while I’m watching a television show and check email.

My actions are stating that the email is more important than the episode on the screen.  While the episode’s feelings are never going to be hurt from that, showing another human being in front of me that they’re not holding my interest will lead to hurt feelings.  So… knowing that I’m showing that waning interest through my actions, I am paying close attention to the signals I’m sending out to the people around me.

What do you think about that distinction between interest span and attention span?  Does your mind always wander or are there times when you are absorbed in the moment?


1 Jenn P { 05.16.17 at 7:54 am }

Very true. And it makes me think of how our school systems are. In k-12, you don’t usually get to choose what you are learning about so your interest span is low. Then kids lose interest in reading and learning because they don’t care about the things that are trying to be taught.
If that tv show isn’t holding your attention, take it as a sign and turn it off. Do something more meaningful with your time and that holds your attention. I totally agree with the interest span with regards to other people. I don’t feel important and cared about when someone is texting or checking email when we are hanging out and I’m by no means perfect with it either.
I also see how this applies to interests in the long term, like career wise. I’m interested in a lot of things like nutrition, yoga, birth related things, other cultures, lgbt issues, breastfeeding, homeopathy, but not one thing holds my interest fully and long enough. https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_calling

2 a { 05.16.17 at 9:02 am }

Sometimes it’s not that I’m not interested in a person, but in the subject matter at hand. Sometimes, I have tasks on a timer on my Hay Day farm. Sometimes, I’m more auditory than visual.

3 Ana { 05.16.17 at 9:10 am }

Yes! I read that post and marked it to go back to, because I wanted to dive into that thought a little more deeply (more than 8 seconds, I guess!). I absolutely find that to be true. I am not checking email when watching a really good TV show, and I can read a good book for hours. In some cases, though, I feel reaching for my phone is more a habit or tic, so I’ve been trying to keep my phone out of arm’s reach when I am trying to spend time with my kids or husband, so the temptation isn’t there. I realize I don’t miss it at all. Its just an automatic thing I do when my phone happens to nearby.

4 Raven { 05.16.17 at 9:45 am }

This is so true. I move constantly – especially when I am at work (I shake both legs all day long). I just can’t be still or focus on a single item UNLESS I am reading a good book, and then I can shut out the world for hours. It’s all because my interest is peaked…even though I normally have a short attention span. Food for thought!

5 torthúil { 05.16.17 at 6:04 pm }

Interesting point, but what is missing here is *how* one gets interested in something. We are born with some genetic predispositions, but I don’t think anyone is born with interests. (?)Interests are discovered. What in a person’s disposition leads them to develop interests, or find things….interesting? And how is the interest span sustained? I would argue that interest span is built by exploring or studying in depth, and you learn to explore/study in depth by…..doing it. I can’t say I’ve experienced or observed any other way of doing it. Maybe you watch something fascinating and it gets your attention, but pursuing that interest involves actually doing something (and “doing” may mean “thinking about a lot.”) Pursuing an interest (beyond watching TV) will inevitably involve doing some boring or repetitive things, or learning new skills, which may be all fun for a while but not all the time. I think the people with the longest interest spans are the ones who have practiced sustaining interest and they are the ones who will also enjoy. I think screens are definitely a threat to that. Well, it’s been proven, it’s a huge issue in education, it’s not my opinion only. It’s why I encourage my daughter’s imaginative play, her time outside, and I do not discourage her from exploring or asking questions about anything in the ‘real world,’ unless it is unsafe beyond her comprehension. At 2 she hasn’t watched a complete movie or TV show or anything on YouTube longer than 2 minutes and I’ll keep it that way as long as I can.

6 torthúil { 05.16.17 at 6:09 pm }

….And as for whether my mind wanders, or whether I focus on something for a long period of time, the answer is I do a lot of both! Usually the “restless mind wandering” means something is bothering me and I haven’t found a way to define or confront it, so I am restlessly looking around either for a means of escape for some some clue as to what is niggling at me. When I come anywhere near an answer though, I’m like a bloodhound on the scent 🙂

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.19.17 at 10:16 am }

I don’t struggle much with Being with a person. But I do struggle these days with Being with a movie or book. I want to take back control of my attention.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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