By Deborah Farmer Kris
Since starting this paragraph, I have been distracted by a police siren, an Instagram alert, and a text from my spouse. I suddenly remembered that my son didn’t put on sunscreen before camp and that I needed to pick up beans for dinner. And then the doctor’s office called to schedule my annual mammogram. When I hung up, I started a new document because, in my fidgety preoccupation, I had closed the old one.
Attention is the ability to direct our limited mental resources when and where we need them. The key word here is “limited.” Attention is a finite cognitive resource — a battery drained by overstimulation, multitasking, worry, distraction, pings, and dings.
I have worked in schools for over 20 years, and I have never heard so much dismay about the inability to focus as I have the last couple of years. Mostly from parents. Talking about themselves.
In a quest to resuscitate my own executive functioning — and support my children’s attention skills — I have found cause for optimism in the work of neuroscientists and learning experts. This article doesn’t address medication (though that can be beneficial for some people in consultation with their doctors). They offer hope in the form of understanding how attention works, what drains it and how we can restore it.
The Myth of Multitasking
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is best known for the “miracle on the Hudson,” successfully landing a commercial airliner on the river after both engines were disabled by birds. In recounting how he approached this unthinkable task, he said he relied on more than his aviation training: He drew from his understanding of neuroscience.