Focus is a Renewable Resource

This post from Female Science Professor, about watching a colleague with ADD work, has been stuck in my head for the past couple of days:

So now he just lives with it and, although he hates his inability to focus, if he keeps going back to his original activity, even if he can’t sustain that activity for more than a few minutes, he gets things done. In fact, he gets a lot done. He published 10 papers last year and wrote at least 2 successful grant proposals. And he is very well informed about the news and weather.

I don’t have ADD, but I identify with many of the symptoms. I think this is a common experience – there are times when even the most attentive of us can’t focus as well as we would like, and we all lose our keys sometimes too. Luckily, we don’t need a psychiatrist’s approval to incorporate random Internet mantras into our daily lives.

Or maybe that’s not so lucky. Psychiatric oversight of my Internet meme-absorption would probably have prevented a number of very bad earworms over the years.

Cat stuck in Venetian blinds: I can't brain today, I have the dumb

Anyway, this idea of returning to the manuscript sits right next to my concept of meditation as a constant process of returning to your breath.

I don’t need to feel excited, or hopeful, or energetic to notice that I am breathing – I can do it whenever I want. For about four breaths, then I get distracted. If I want to keep noticing my breath I have to repeat the choice to pay attention. Over and over and over.

Focusing on work doesn’t come as naturally to me as breathing (that would be weird) and there are times when I really do has the stupid and can’t brain at all. Most of the time, though, I can repeat the choice to pay attention. Over and over and over.

I don’t know if these every-five-minute vow renewals will get me through the next year, but they only need to get me through the next three months.


  1. Lab Lemming wrote:

    The trouble is when I look away for a second, see something shiny, and then get so absorbed by that that the day disappears…

  2. ScienceWoman wrote:

    This post pretty much encapsulates me too…which is why sometimes blogs are a BAD THING.

    Must do work now.

  3. Luna_the_cat wrote:

    Ye gods and little fishies, do I ever relate to this. Especially when it comes to reading methodology sections. Concentration, especially when there is an internets handy, is just about imp-…
    ………………….–ooh, look over there! Shiny!!!

  4. Hob wrote:

    I can’t seem to make trackbacks work, so here’s what this made me think about. (Weirdly, I’m pretty sure I added the little fishies before I read Luna’s comment.)

  5. Maria Brumm wrote:

    Trackbacks are broken for everyone on ScienceBlogs. I think it might have been something something spam something and spam. One of these days I’ll get around to cleaning up the template so it stops offering false hope…

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