How To Improve Your Focus

Research suggests our attention lasts less than 60 seconds when looking at a screen. It's time to change that.

Welcome to the positive corner of the internet. Here’s a daily digest designed to make you healthier in less than 5 minutes. If you were forwarded this message, you can get the free daily email here.

Today’s Health Upgrade

  • Live 24 years longer

  • Are you financially healthy?

  • Attention, please.

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Live 24 Years Longer

It’s never too late to become healthier. But new research suggests that the earlier you start, the more you can extend your life.

New research suggests that you can add more than two decades to your life if you adopt eight habits in your 40s.

Scientists studied more than 700,000 people who were age 40 and older. The goal was to identify behaviors associated with better health and lifespan. Three behaviors — a lack of physical activity, opioid use, and smoking — were associated with up to a 45 percent increase in death during the nine years the study took place.

While those behaviors might seem obvious, what stood out was how much creating healthy habits made a big difference. The eight habits include:

  • Being physically active

  • Being free from opioids

  • Not smoking

  • Managing stress

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Having good sleep hygiene

  • Not regularly binge drinking

  • Having positive social relationships

When men adopted all eight habits in their 40s, they lived up to 24 years longer, while women lived an additional 21 years compared to people who adopted none of the habits.

Even if you can’t build all eight habits, improving one at a time can still make a significant impact. According to the researchers, stress, binge drinking, poor diet, and poor sleep hygiene were each associated with around a 20 percent increase in the risk of death.

The Guest Corner: Are You Financially Healthy?

Editor’s note: As we continue to build the positive corner of the Internet, we want to grow the ways we connect you with experts from different fields to help you make your life just a little better every day. Some research suggests people who budget spend 1.4 times more than they intended. And that budgeting doesn’t help reduce spending, overall. It sounds like the studies we share about crash diets! So we asked finance expert Ramit Sethi to help break down how to save money while spending on things you love. If you like hearing Ramit’s advice, don’t worry: he’ll be back.

Instead of using a budget, I believe in using a Conscious Spending Plan. With the Conscious Spending Plan, you can choose how you want to spend your money — and how to live your Rich Life.

Following the basic guidelines, you’ll make sure you’re saving enough money each month while having money left over to spend on the things you love — guilt-free.

The Conscious Spending Plan has 4 major buckets where your money goes:

  1. Fixed Costs (50-60% take-home pay, max)

This bucket has any basic expense that any ordinary person would use to live, like mortgage, utilities, car payment, groceries, cell phone, debt payments.

  1. Investments (at least 10% take-home pay)

This bucket includes any long-term investment, like a 401(k), Roth IRA, or other similar investment accounts.

  1. Savings (at least 5-10% take-home pay)

This bucket includes short-term, midterm, and longer-term savings goals for things like holiday gifts, vacations, house down payment, and emergency savings.

  1. Guilt-Free Spending (20-35% take-home pay)

This bucket is what you have left over for guilt-free fun money, for things like personal training sessions, meal prep services, entertainment, Ubers/Lyfts, etc.

Don’t get stuck thinking too hard about what goes where or if your numbers are exact. Get close estimates, implement your plan, and adjust as needed. Download the Conscious Spending Plan spreadsheet for free to understand your numbers.

Pay Attention

How often are you able to focus on this entire email? If you read the whole thing more often than not, you might have a super-human attention span.

Recent research suggests our attention span to remain on one screen is just 47 seconds.

And the decline appears to be rapid and concerning. About 20 years ago, attention span was 2.5 minutes. Fast forward many years, and that shrunk to 75 seconds. And now estimates suggest that it’s less than a minute for any one screen. And if you’re listening to a lecture, that only expands to about 10 minutes.

And that’s not all. Not only is our ability to focus on one thing very limited, but every time we get distracted, it can take up to 25 minutes to refocus on your primary task. In many ways, technology plays on the weaknesses of your brain. We are designed to seek out new information. When we didn’t have 24/7 access to information, it was easier to lock in on one task. Now — as Daniel pointed out on Monday — with any information you want in your hand, it makes it harder to stay on track, and easier to lose focus.

You might not care if your life is an endless scroll, but your body and mind keep score. Research suggests that the less you focus, the more likely you are to experience stress and anxiety and have a harder time being present and feeling happy.

What’s your defense? Research suggests a few simple options.

  1. Block off 2 to 3 times per day when you don’t use your phone. On some level, we’ve all become addicted. You must train your brain to go without your phone to break the cycle, just as you must train your muscles to become stronger.

  2. Get outside and walk for 20 minutes. You can listen to music or call a friend, but try to stay off the screen or social media. Being outside and moving can help your brain reset and focus.

  3. Do something quiet and mundane that requires some level of focus. It can be a crossword puzzle, the dishes, or laundry.

  4. Read a book for 30 minutes. You’re not just training your brain to stay off your phone; you’re training to maintain focus for a longer time on a singular task.

You don’t need to avoid your phone altogether. But, if you can train to lessen your dependency, you’ll regain your focus, become more productive, reduce stress, and generally feel happier.  

Publisher: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Editors-in-chief: Adam Bornstein and Daniel Ketchell