Money and the Shrinking Attention Span

Since 2000, the average attention span has dropped by 33%. That’s an amazing little statistic.

When I see statistics like that, I attempt to immediately translate them into what they mean from a money perspective.

I often talk about the “ten second rule,” which is a simple idea for shopping that helps guide you away from impulsive purchases. If you simply take ten seconds to think about a purchase you’re about to make before making it, you can often talk yourself out of making a buying mistake.

Over the course of those years since 2000, the average attention span has gone from more than ten seconds to less than ten. The average person will lose focus on that purchase by the end of the “ten second rule.”

So? The ten seconds is arbitrary, right? That line of thinking misses the bigger picture.

The shorter the amount of time you have to focus on a specific thing before making a decision and having your mind wander elsewhere, the less sophisticated your decision will be.

A good buying decision relies on more than just a quick reaction. It relies on comparing several different products, not only in terms of their price and their price per unit, but in terms of the relative qualities of the item. The smaller your attention span, the less attention you’re giving to that decision.

In other words, if you’re suddenly spending 33% less time than before on making a spending decision, you’re going to be relying far less on reasoned thought and far more on instinct and impulse.

Impulse is a very poor source for making buying decisions. The entire point of marketing is to guide impulses directly to a product purchase, and marketing is a giant industry.

My solution to this is to try to do things in my life that naturally extend my attention span. This really comes down to three things.

One, I try to single-task as much as possible. When I’m working, I try to shut off as many distractions as possible. I turn off my cell phone. I’ll even disconnect my internet access. I’ll sit in a room with minimal distractions. In other words, I force myself to focus on my task at hand. Naturally, I start focusing on what I’m working on for longer and longer periods – and this makes it easier to focus for a few more seconds during distracting times.

Two, I do fun things that require focus. This is part of why I enjoy reading books. Reading a book and getting anything out of it requires you to focus. It’s also part of why I enjoy playing complex board games – they also require me to focus while doing something fun. Activities and entertainment that requires me to focus on one thing with concentration for a while is a great thing for attention spans.

Three, I make room in my life for prayer and meditation. Lately, I’ve been incorporating basic yoga stretches into this. I’ll get into a stretch that’s relatively easy to hold and I’ll try to empty my mind of all thoughts. For me, it’s stray thoughts that distract me and tear away my attention and I’ve found that prayer and meditation – simply driving out stray thoughts and focusing on one mental objective – really does wonders for keeping my stray thoughts at bay and under control.

These things are a normal part of my life, but the long-term effect they have on my mind allows me to have the attention needed to make careful buying decisions. I hope these tactics will help you, too.

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