Gloria Mark
Take Agency of Your Attention Span

It's really important to become aware of your own attentional capacity and understand when your tank is starting to get low.

Gloria Mark
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Show Notes

Our attention has become a commodity and is getting hijacked by technology. Dr. Gloria Mark (@Dr.GloriaMark) is the author of a groundbreaking book called Attention Span. Attention Span is a must-read as it covers Dr. Mark’s decades of research into how our minds have been affected in the digital age. Gloria received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in psychology. She studies the impact of digital media on people’s lives. Her work is a deep dive into examining multitasking, interruptions, mood, and productivity due to digital devices becoming so intricate in our lives. She has published over 200 articles and has presented her work at multiple venues.

Author and Creative Dr. Gloria Mark(@Dr.GloriaMark) is a Chancellor’s professor of Informatics at the University of California Irvine. She has published and presented her work in venues such as the Aspen Ideas Festival, and it’s appeared in popular media such as New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, BBC, Atlantic, and more. Her new book, Attention Span is a must-read as it covers Dr. Mark’s decades of research into how our minds have been affected in the digital age. 

We have a limited set of attentional resources, or it’s been called mental resources or cognitive resources. And you can think of it as your attentional capacity. And it’s limited, these resources are limited, and they’re very precious.”

Dr. Gloria Mark

Key Takeaways:

  • 3 Types of Attention: Intentional attention is when you use your mental focus to do an activity such as writing, lifting weights, or scuba diving. Exogenous attention, or the default mode network, is when we respond to things outside of us. Kinetic attention is shifting from an iPhone to a computer or from one screen to another. Recent studies show that most people average 40 seconds per screen.
  • Technology as and Extension of Self: Devices like cellular phones and computers have become an extension of ourselves. Our lives have become intimately intertwined with their devices in this modern age. However, where is the line, and how can we draw it? Learning to be sovereign from our devices and drawing a healthy line for our identity is important.
  • Switch Cost: Every time you switch your attention, you incur an extra cost in time. Imagine you have an internal whiteboard in your mind and are writing everything you need for a specific task; if you switch in the middle of that list, you are erasing the board for the new task you have changed to. Therefore, when you return to the first task, it takes longer to reorient yourself. Multitasking or switching focus takes time and creates exhaustion and a lack of clarity.
  • Saying No in Service to Your Yes: Monotasking, a good night’s sleep, and taking breaks throughout your day allows you to have balanced energy levels and replenish them if needed. Knowing how to say no in service to your bigger yes will allow you to be clear on what tasks/commitments are important and which ones you need to let go of or delegate to others.


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Attention Span

Mark Divine 0:00  

This is the Mark Divine show. And I’m your host, Mark Divine. Thanks so much for joining me today. Super stoked to have you here. On the show I explore what it means to be courageous through the lens of the most fearless people, compassionate, inspiring leaders, Grandmaster martial artists, military executives, Navy SEALs, and experts in productivity, such as my guest today, Dr. Gloria Mark. Dr. Mark is chancellor’s professor of Informatics at the University of California Irvine. She’s got a new book out called Attention Span which covers her decades of research into how our minds have been affected in the digital age. Gloria received her PhD from Columbia University in psychology, and studies the impact of digital media on people’s lives, she takes a deep dive in examining multitasking, interruptions, mood and productivity with the use of digital devices. She has published over 200 articles and has presented her work at multiple venues, including the Aspen Ideas Festival, and it’s appeared in popular media such as New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, BBC, Atlantic, and more. Dr. Glory Mark, thanks so much for joining me today. 

Mark Divine 0:58

Dr. Mark, thanks so much for joining me today on the Mark Divine Show. Super stoked to have you.

Dr. Gloria Mark 1:03

Thank you for having me. 

Mark Divine 1:04

Well, man, it’s super cool to be talking to you. As I mentioned, attention is a big, obviously a big issue for everybody. But it’s something that I’ve been teaching SEALs for a long time, like how to, how to really control their attention and avoid distraction, and to remain, you know, front sight focused on what’s right in front of them. Because you know, as a warrior, as a SEAL, that’s critical. I’m really excited to get in talk about your book and all your work. But I promise all my listeners that we really want to get to know the person and not just zero in on content, you know, because a lot of content out there, what’s more important is like the person behind the content and the person, the authenticity and like, what shaped you. What were the formative years that shaped you, and some of the challenges and key forces that that helped you become, you know, a leading doctor, PhD in this, this area? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 1:53

Well, you know, I did not start out as a psychologist, my first degree was in fine art. And I never thought I would do anything else I, I loved the freedom, the creativity..


Mark Divine 2:07

Were you an artists, as well?


Dr. Gloria Mark 2:09

I got a degree in art that didn’t last very long. Because I discovered how hard it was to make a living as an artist. There were other things I could do as well, I could do math and science. And I thought, well, it’s a lot easier to make a living, doing something with math, or science. And I can be creative as well. 


Mark Divine 2:31

So not many people, by the way, have that combination of sciency mind as well as creative, artistic mind that’s interesting. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 2:39

I’m a firm believer that everyone should study some form of art, whether it’s painting, or music, or sculpture, or dance, but you know, something that can really open up people’s creativity, because you can then apply that to anything else that you do. You can apply it to science, you can apply it to business, it’s teaching people how to think out of the box. And that’s something that we don’t really get in current education. If you do some kind of art, you learn how to have what’s called lateral thinking, which means, you know, thinking of combining two very different kinds of ideas together to come up with something new. 


Mark Divine 3:26

Yeah, like, I use the term contextual thinking, I think that’s similar, right? So it’s, you’re able to take in more context, which allows you to make more..


Dr. Gloria Mark 3:34



Mark Divine 3:34

… see more patterns and link more ideas, like you said. So some people are naturally inclined to that, like you. But you can also train that in this way. You’re suggesting, by taking art classes or studying dance, or I’m trying to think of what I have done, that made me creative, and it was probably the martial arts really helped me.


Dr. Gloria Mark 3:51

There are a lot of ways that you can do that. And in fact, you know, I noticed when I got into science, that a lot of people are trained and in what’s called linear logical reasoning. So you reason from A to B, to C to D, and you don’t go outside of this path. And you close yourself up to, you know, studying new ideas or something different. But, you know, a number of psychologists use lateral thinking to come up with, you know, really interesting ideas to test. So there I was stuck with an art degree trying to figure out how am I going to make a living, and through a bit of a circuitous path, I ended up at Columbia University, getting a PhD in psychology, which I found to be an extremely creative endeavor.


Mark Divine 4:45

In what way because again, it’s very much hard science. But I guess you have the creativity comes in the relationship with the patient and trying to understand what shaped their malady or their outlook on life and those types of things?


Dr. Gloria Mark 4:57

You’re right. It’s hard science. I was in a, an area in my studies of psychology that’s called cognitive psychology. So many people think of psychology as clinical psychology where you interact with patients. Cognitive Psychology is really trying to understand how the mind works, how behavior works. The way creativity comes into play, is in coming up with hypotheses about humans, hypotheses about how our minds work, why we do things the way we do. And it’s so interesting, because, you know, they say psychology is proving the intuitive, and everybody has intuitions about our behavior, and how we think, but when you’re in psychology, you get to study that. And as a result, you often along the way come up with all kinds of interesting discoveries. 


Mark Divine 5:58

So cognitive science studying the way the brain works. And the objectivist view says that cognition or consciousness is imminent from cognition. Basically, brain activity creates thought that creates self awareness or what one would call it consciousness. Um, this is kind of an out there philosophic question, what is your view of the kind of the Eastern perspectives that consciousness is not caused by brain activity, but as a there’s a codependent origination or codependent relationship between consciousness and cognition, or awareness and thought, or the objective and the subjective. The objective view that everything is conflated arises from biological activity, you know, in my view is one of the challenges that we face in western science because it doesn’t, you know, back to your creative thinking, it doesn’t allow for spontaneous creativity or direct the ideas of direct perception of knowing things without knowing why or how you can possibly know them, and ways of thinking that, right thinking about the human experience that couldn’t possibly be known just through simply having experienced something before biologically or, you know, in one’s lived experience.


Dr. Gloria Mark 7:06

So cognition is about interpretation. So if I see a tree and you see a tree, we might have very different interpretations of that tree. And it’s based on our sensory experience of what we’re seeing in that tree. It’s also based on our life experience, our lived experience of everything that goes into forming that interpretation. And what’s really interesting is how we relate to people. Because, you know, you might have a conversation with an individual. And this is what the field of social psychology covers, how social conditions in the social environment affect your interpretation of that interaction. So yes, there is a, of course, a biological basis, a sensory basis, taking in information through our senses. But then we also interpret that data, and that interpretation that comes from so many different places in our lives. 


Mark Divine 8:12

Where I was gonna say is that interpretation is strictly related to the prior conditioning, right?


Dr. Gloria Mark 8:19

It doesn’t have to be, you can have a new interpretation and new idea about something, possibly, it can be traced back to some kind of prior conditioning, for example, if I didn’t have certain experiences, a particular idea may not have come to me, it can be traced back to prior experiences. But you know, this gets very murky. And it’s very hard to be able to study this. I’m an empiricist. I like to be able to study these kinds of phenomena. 


Mark Divine 8:55

Yeah, I can see what you’re saying. I mean, how would you draw the line between, you know, a new thought that is purely new versus what’s perceived to be a new thought, but it’s actually filtered through a lifetime and conditioning? It shows up as new because at that moment, the conditioning arranged it as such, right? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 9:11

That’s right, we’re getting into the realm of philosophy.


Mark Divine 9:13

Listeners are probably going, oh, there we go Divine, you’re just, you know, going off into a ditch again, in philosophy. I’d love to, you know, we don’t talk enough about philosophy, I think, in our culture, because it’s really interesting getting to the meaning of just the nature of self and self awareness and discovering things like you know, what your study, like, what does it mean to actually pay attention to something? And what does it mean to have your attention co-opted by either technology, or social media or, you know, influences that are trying to kind of own a piece of your attention, which is all over the place, right? Most people never think about that because they don’t take the time to study themselves. And you can do that either through a deep Western program like a PhD  in psychology or psychotherapy or philosophy, or through, you know, more of an Eastern self awareness program, like meditation, mindfulness yoga, or Zen, you know, that was my path, I started Zen training when I was 21. And it changed my life, like radically. And within two to three years, I went from being a CPA MBA on Wall Street to being a Navy SEAL, number one in my class. And it was all about Zen training, 100%, training, the brain attention control, concentration, becoming more aware.


Dr. Gloria Mark 10:28

Yeah, there are different kinds of attention, there’s many, there are many different ways to think about attention. And you can think of attention as being under our control. And you can also think of attention as being automatic. And so when attention is under our control, it involves effort, some kind of mental effort, and we do things intentionally. So if I’m writing something, I’m using controlled attention controlled processing. If you’re diving, as a Navy SEAL, you’re going to be using controlled attention, you have to be very alert and very aware of your surroundings. But we also have another kind of attention that’s automatic. And this is not something that’s under our control. Another term for this kind of attention is called exogenous. And that means we respond to things that are external to us. 


Mark Divine

Is that the same as the default mode network, that term the default mode network? Is that exogenous uncontrolled attention? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 

Yes. So an example of what captures our automatic attention is, you know, the blinking notifications on your screen, or, you know, I have my smartphone next to me, just the sight of my smartphone can trigger an automatic impulse to grab for that smartphone. A lot of things we do are automatic, we can be driving, and driving can become automatic, right? Because many people have driven for a number of years, as soon as the light turns yellow, you suddenly, you know, put your foot on the brakes. Or if someone swerves in front of your car, your attention is no longer automatic. And suddenly, you’re focused on what that thing is in front of you, you’re trying to avert a crash. So you know, our lives are a combination of using controlled processing, controlled attention, and automatic processing. And it’s important to think about when we use our devices, which is a good chunk of our day, a very big chunk of our day, to understand what are the forces that lead us to behave automatically, and also to use controlled attention? And some of these forces are within ourselves?


Mark Divine 12:54

Isn’t it fascinating, I’m sure part of your research is like what happened to the what’s happened to the human brain, since 2007.  Because you know, that term you use is sounds so normal now. But like, if you had said, yeah, we’re always using our devices are not far away from our devices. If you had said that, in 2006, I would have been like, what device you’re talking about.

And now, like, when, when the iPhone came out, I remember first playing around with like, huh, interesting phone, but now it’s a device that we’re never far from. And you’re right, it captures your mind. It’s, you know, the idea of the extended mind. That is our extended mind. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 13:32

It is. Technology has become an extension of ourselves. It’s so important, we need to draw the line. And that’s one of the problems we face that we just can’t draw that line.


Mark Divine 13:45

There hasn’t been enough time to study and understand the effects. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 13:49

That’s right.


Mark Divine 13:50

It usually takes several generations be like, whoa, you know, let’s do something different here. Are we coming to that point where there’s enough information out now that we can actually have that serious discussion about doing something different with these technologies? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 14:05

I think we can have these discussions. I also think there’s a lot more study that needs to be done. But I think we can have these discussions because we’re seeing the effects. We’re seeing that a lot of people get exhausted when they use their technologies. I mean, technology has been designed to extend our capabilities to allow us to do more. But when people get themselves exhausted, they’re actually doing less. And so we do need to have these kinds of discussions to understand, you know, where is that line? Where can we draw that line, you know, to create the separation of technology from ourselves. 


Mark Divine 14:45

So what’s the research, Gloria, on what the effect is on the brain and the tension from what I’m not sure what you call it addiction to or overuse of or just just this new way of living? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 14:55

I would call it overuse, I would stay away from the term addiction, because that’s a very extreme term, but I would call it overuse. And, you know, I’ve been studying people’s relationship with their technology since well, for a very long time. And I started formally looking at attention back in 2004. And at the time found that people spent an average of about two and a half minutes on any screen before switching. 


Mark Divine 15:27

And that was mostly computers, though, right? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 15:29

That was mostly computers at the time, and then smartphones came along. And in the last five, six years, we find that attention on any screen averages about 47 seconds. If you look at the the midpoint of the observations, that’s called the medium, that means that half of all the observations are less than 40 seconds. So we have this kind of behavior that we’ve developed when we use our smartphones, and also our computers that I call kinetic attention. And what I mean by that is, our attention is very dynamic. We shift from screen to screen, device to device we scroll. And so we have this kind of kinetic behavior that we’ve developed. It’s not just my own research, but others have independently come to the same metrics within a few seconds. So it’s a pretty robust result, 47 seconds, on average, on a screen.


Mark Divine 16:29

That’s incredible. So it seems like the the therapy or the psychology profession has been diagnosing people with ADD and ADHD, you know, like almost like as an epidemic? Do you think it’s just literally the training of the brain through using these technologies at faster and faster speeds? Or is it really a disorder?


Dr. Gloria Mark 16:48

I do not believe it’s a disorder. So first of all, the difference between someone who has a true diagnosis of ADHD, and a person who’s using their computer and phone and having this kind of what I call kinetic attention, dynamic attention, is that if a person who doesn’t is not diagnosed with ADHD puts down their devices, then you’re not going to see this kind of kinetic attention behavior. I mean, it might stick for a little bit, but people will go back to their true natures. But someone who does have ADHD, truly, they will have this kind of behavior, irrespective of whatever environment they’re in, whether it’s a digital environment, or non digital environment. 


Mark Divine 17:37

So what are the some of the negative effects of this declining attention span or this active, I forget the term you use, kinetic attention. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 17:45

Yeah. So first of all, we know it’s associated with making more errors. We know this from decades and decades of research in the laboratory, but also research in the wild. Which means looking at people in their natural environments, we know that doctors make more errors. In fact, there’s a study that showed that doctors made more prescribing errors, when they were shifting their attention rapidly, which is pretty scary. Nurses make more errors, pilots make more errors. In terms of performance and accuracy, it’s, it’s not good. We also know that it takes longer for people to accomplish any task if they keep switching their attention away from one task to another. And there’s something called a switch cost, right. So every time you switch your attention, you incur an extra cost and time. I can explain what’s behind that every time you do some task. Imagine that you’ve got this internal whiteboard in your mind. And you’re writing information about that tasks that you need, in order to do the task. If you’re a Navy SEAL, and you’re diving, you know, you’ve got this internal whiteboard about all the information you need to do your your job. But if you suddenly switch your attention, and you switch it to something else, you have to erase that whiteboard and write down new information. And so if I’m working on writing something, and all of a sudden I switch to email, I’m erasing all that information I had when I was writing, say that chapter. And I have to write new information about the email in this internal whiteboard in my mind, and then I switch and I you switch to another task and then to another task, and all this writing and rewriting on the whiteboard. It’s getting us exhausted, and I’ll talk about that in a moment. But it takes longer for us to reorient and to get back to the thing we were interrupted from. 

And probably the worst effect of all is that we get ourselves stressed. And we know that when people rapidly switch attention, we know their blood pressure rises, there’s a physiological marker in the body that indicates people are stressed. In my own research, we’ve had people wear heart rate monitors. And it measures what’s called heart rate variability. It’s a measure of stress. And we see that that’s been associated with fast attention shifting. Also, we’ve asked people to self report. So we use standard psychological scales of stress. And people report having more stress psychologically, when they switch their attention. 


Mark Divine 20:30

Do we know why, is there any speculation of why the sympathetic nervous system is triggered? When you task, do that rapid test? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 20:48

Yeah, so that all that writing and rewriting on that internal whiteboard, involves a lot of mental effort. And so you know, we’re trying to keep track of multiple things in our minds, it’s like juggling plates, keeping plates spinning, right. So when you leave an unfinished task, it doesn’t really escape your mind very easily. And there’s some really classic research that was done a century ago, by a researcher called Bluma Zeigarnik. It’s called the Zeigarnik effect. And it shows that we remember unfinished tasks, it’s hard to get them out of our minds. And in fact, if you’re trying to go to sleep, and you have trouble trying to get to sleep, it can actually help you to write down your unfinished tasks, and that can help you fall asleep, because otherwise it keeps churning around in your mind.


Mark Divine 21:47

I love that it’s one of our tools for my Unbeatable Mind program is this evening ritual to clear out the mental inbox and eradicate regrets and just go to bed with a clean slate. And it’s super effective. That’s neat. I didn’t realize this research, though. But it makes sense. It’s not obvious. I don’t think to the human being, how much energy is used with this virtual computer that we have in our heads, right? It’s obvious when you go out and lift weights, right? There’s effort involved, you’re moving something heavy, your body sweats, your heart rate is up. In any type of physical activity, it’s obvious that you’re expending a lot of energy. But fatigue from using the virtual computer in your head is like creeps up really slowly until all of a sudden it hits you. It’s just somehow it’s not obvious because it’s not overt to us, we can’t see it objectively. On that note, can you tell us just how much energy is used through this virtual computer and, and the inefficient use of that virtual computer through constant task switching and unfinished business? And how do we become more aware of the energy uses and more effective at managing that energy? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 22:52

Yeah, those are such great questions. We have a limited set of attentional resources, or it’s been called mental resources or cognitive resources. And you can think of it as your attentional capacity. And it’s limited, these resources are limited, and they’re very precious. And they drain, when we do hard tasks, right, we use them up when we’re trying to be focused for a long period of time, but we also use them up, when we’re constantly switching, it’s wasting resources that could be used for actually doing the work. And instead, we’re using these resources to try to reorient to this task, and, you know, keep track of that interrupted task. And so it’s like having a leaky tank. And so, you know, it’s really important to think about how we can make the best use of these precious limited resources. 


Mark Divine 23:53

I’ve read somewhere, I think that like the brain takes, and I know that there’s more of that going on and processing all the senses and everything than just the brain. But the brain takes 40% of our body’s energy. Is that just an anecdotal thing? Or is there some research to that? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 24:08

I know that the brain uses a lot of a lot of energy, I’m not surprised by that figure, I would have to look it up. But I’m not at all surprised.


Mark Divine 24:18

If it’s true, even if it’s close, it puts a big exclamation point on what you just said. That mental work takes an enormous amount of your energy, almost half of the energy that you have available to you. So Wow. Wouldn’t it make sense to learn how to manage that energy? And also how to maybe create more energy for the brain to use more efficiently or more effectively, or more and more concentration power? So what are some of your discoveries on how we save energy? And I think basically, you already answered that by saying concentrating on one thing at a time, saves energy, right? Any other ways to save energy and then maybe shifting to like, is there any way to actually generate more energy for our mind? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 24:58

Yeah, I mean,saving energy, your right is trying to do more mono tasking as opposed to multitasking. One of the best ways to generate energy is to get a really good night’s sleep, because then we start our day with a full tank of mental resources. Now, in our you know, current times, a lot of people accumulate sleep debt. And sleep debt means if I need eight hours of sleep a night, and I’m only getting six, I’m accumulating debt. We know from research that I’ve done that as the dept increases, our ability to pay attention decreases, and our attention spans decrease.

And it’s also associated with doing lightweight activities. So if you just don’t have the attentional capacity, what do people do? Well, they go to social media, or they surf the web, because they don’t have the resources to be able to do hard, focused work. And so you know, the same is true of taking really good, significant breaks, to be able to replenish. And we tend not to do that, we tend to schedule our days, with tasks and meetings back to back without any breaks. That’s the worst thing we can do. 

We think we’re doing more, but we’re actually doing less, because we’re getting ourselves exhausted. And we don’t have the capacity to be able to do hard work to be creative. And creativity is really important. And so it’s really important to become aware of your own attentional capacity and understanding when your tank is starting to get low. And that’s the time to pull away, in fact, even to be proactive, to pull away and take a really good break and get yourself replenished to, and, we’ll be able to do more, if we do that. 


Mark Divine 27:03

I love this idea of doing less things better. I also love that kind of corresponding ideas to say no in service to a higher yes or a bigger yes. Right. So, you know, thinking about how do we manage our schedule, right? So saying no to all the useless meetings that just take up time that really the team can handle or someone else can handle, in service to the bigger yes, which is the deep work, the deep concentrated work and the things that you need to be productive on. It’s very hard to, for people to do that, because they’re just we’re so trained, we have such a bias toward action in our culture. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 27:36

But I would also say it’s important to think of service to ourselves, I like for us to reframe, thinking about how we use our devices, instead of trying to pack as much as we can into our days, let’s reframe it and think about how we can use our devices, and change our relationship with technology so that we can have better wellbeing, so that we can be more positive. And we can do that, by not packing so much back to back into our days. And of course, technology affords this possibility for us to be able to, you know, do more tasks, but let’s intentionally think about our limited mental resources, and what we could do to nourish them to keep our capacity full. And then we we can really perform better. 


Mark Divine 28:30

Yeah, mental exhaustion, or activity, or lack of, you know, lack of doing the recovery, that leads to mental exhaustion doesn’t just lead to kind of stress and poor health or, you know, sleep problems, but also you, you’re really depriving yourself of learning. And so now there’s research out, I’m sure you’re aware of that, you know, if you have a deep engagement or conversation where your mind is really, really engaged or writing, at the end of that, if you don’t take a break, then your mind doesn’t have the time to like, absorb and disseminate and organize all that knowledge and to do the things it needs to do to integrate so that you have the deep learning, you know, that you you could have.


Dr. Gloria Mark 29:10

That’s right.


Mark Divine 29:11

Then your brain tries to do all that at night from all the different learning periods that happened during the day. And there’s all these other factors going on, because the exhaustion and the stress so you don’t sleep well. And so it just it just never happens. You’re crippling your learning ability. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 29:25

That’s right. Patterned learning is the best way to learn something. You know, I teach students who I see cram for exams at the last minute. And that’s the worst way to try to learn something you do need to space out and have breaks between learning.


Mark Divine 29:43

How much time like let’s say someone took an hour to really look in absorption, listen to this podcast. Do they need just a couple of minutes, five minutes, what’s a good time to give your brain a little time to digest and…?


Dr. Gloria Mark 29:54

It depends on so many things. It depends on the material you’re learning or thinking about. It depends on what your current capacity is, if you’re full of mental resources, you’ll be able to absorb a lot more. So it depends on a number of things. But I would say even allowing days to intervene can help with learning. 


Mark Divine 30:17

If someone was listening to this and going, Holy cow, yeah, I am utterly a victim of kinetic attention. And I need to do something about it. What do they do? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 30:26

There’s a lot of things that people can do. So we talked about getting a good night’s sleep, we talked about breaks. Another really important thing to consider is that attention is goal oriented. You pay attention to what your goal is, and think about what is your most important goal for the day. And that’s going to guide your attention. Now we did a study, this was done at Microsoft Research, was led by a colleague of mine, Alex Williams. 

And we gave people a conversational software agent that would ask people at the beginning of each day, what’s your goal for the day? What do you hope to accomplish in terms of work? And what’s your emotional goal? How do you want to feel, by the end of the day? When people were reminded of their goals first thing in the morning, they actually stuck to their goals better. But here’s what we also learned, the effect didn’t last very long. What we discovered is that people have to be continually reminded of goals, once in the morning is not good enough. We need continual reminders, goals are the best thing that can keep us on track, and shield us from distractions, even distractions that originate from within ourselves. So having your goal front and center, you do whatever you need to do, if it means writing it down on a post it note, you know, keeping it on a piece of paper near you. Or if you have the capability to keep reminding yourself, that’s really important. 

So another thing people can do is to learn how to practice what I call meta awareness. So you talked about your experience with meditation. During the pandemic, my university offered us a course in mindfulness based stress reduction. And I was very fascinated with the idea of keeping your mind focused on the present. And I realized that when we are on our devices, we can practice the same kind of thing. Because when we don’t have controlled attention, and our mind wanders, that’s when we’re susceptible to distractions, right, that’s when a notification can come in. Or we might have an urge in ourselves to go to social media, that can happen very easily. But we can learn to probe ourselves to keep asking ourselves questions. When you feel that urge to go to social media, you can ask yourself, Do I really need to go to social media now? Why do I want to go, is it because I’m bored? It’s easy to stop yourself. It’s easy to make these automatic actions much more intentional and controlled, right? If I have this urge to grab my smartphone, I can ask myself, wait a minute, why do I need to look at it, chances are, I don’t have a good reason. And that’s enough to keep me on track. So I’ve learned to practice this skill of meta awareness. And it is a skill and it’s a skill that anyone can learn. And it does help keep people on track. There’s another thing that people can do, which is practicing forethought. And what that means is understanding how your current actions are going to affect your future self. And that future self is later in the day. If I’m a person who can easily spend 30 minutes on social media. Before I go to social media. Imagine, visualize what your end of the day is going to look like. Am I going to be up at 10 o’clock finishing that overdue report? Or am I going to be feeling fulfilled, I accomplished what I had set out to do? I’m going to be reading a book drinking a glass of wine relaxing. So imagine and visualize what the impact your current actions will have on your life at the end of the day or even in a few hours. 


Mark Divine 34:30

I love that those are such great skills. I love the terminology future thought, we do a visualization around future me and ideal self, and also dirt dive which is a name we got we used to use in the military, the SEALs, right so. We used to you know every operation we would do this but we call it because dirt diving because when we dove on a combat dive profile, we would visualize the whole thing in great detail. And then we would also go out into you know the environment and walk it as if we were going to dive it right so we’ve had multiple checkpoints in our virtual reality mindspace, right before we ever got in the water. And so I use that term in the morning. And it’s similar to what you just described, although there is a distinction, I said, dirt dive your day goes through your day, you know, major event by major event. So by they’ve already checked their calendar, they’ve already determined what their most important goal or target is, and when and how they’re going to get that done, when they’re going to get the training in. And then then you go through and you visualize the whole thing. But what you’re talking about is visualizing it, like what would happen if you also did something that wasn’t conducive to an ideal outcome. 

I love that, like almost similar with SEALs, we would visualize all the things that could go wrong, and how we were going to respond. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 35:41

And if you visualize here, here’s what I want my end of the day to look like, you know, I want to be relaxing, I want a good night’s sleep. And that’s good enough motivation to keep you on track. 


Mark Divine 35:55

For a more immediate intervention. You know, I’ve heard of people taking iPhone kind of breaks, or literally, they sell now little beds at night, you can put your iPhone in and put it to sleep. So it’s not there in the morning to grab when you wake up. Those are fun little interventions, I bet. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 36:12

I’m actually a believer that people have to develop their own agency to control their attention. And I know there’s there’s a lot of good apps out there and devices, like you talked about, it’s like training wheels on a bike, and you never learn how to ride the bike. And I think people can develop their own agency to be in control. 


Mark Divine 36:25

That’s true. Some may be thinking easier for you to say. So the intervention might be fine, as long as you don’t make the intervention the main thing? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 36:44



Mark Divine 36:45

It’s been a fascinating conversation. Dr. Mark, thanks so much. So your book is out in the marketplace. It’s called Attention Span. What’s next for you? Are you working on something new? 


Dr. Gloria Mark 36:55

I am, I’m working on a number of things. I mean, one of the things I’m working on is teams, and remote work and how teams are able to manage remote work. I’m also doing a lot more thinking about how we can control our attention better, and how we can improve our relationship with our devices. That’s been a central concern of mine for many, many years. And I’ll continue to think about that. 


Mark Divine 37:24

Thank you very much for your work. And thank you for your time today. It’s been a fascinating conversation. I appreciate it very much. 


Dr. Gloria Mark 37:29

Thank you very much for having me.


Mark Divine 37:32  

Well, that was a fascinating discussion about a topic near and dear to my heart. Attention and attention control. I love this idea of doing less things better, and taking brain breaks but a good conversation about the importance of that. Super chocked full of great information. Like are you in a situation of kinetic attention, or can you get back into more potential control? I recommend you get a book Attention Span. And I really appreciate Dr. Gloria Mark for being on the show. Show Notes are up at our website MarkDivine.com can find the YouTube video or the video up on our YouTube channel. You can reach out to me at Mark Divine on Twitter and Real Mark Divine on Instagram and Facebook or on my LinkedIn account. Newsletter Divine Inspiration comes out every Tuesday where I’ve got show notes from the weekly podcast, my blog, other inspirational things that come across my desk, including a book and reading and a weekly practice. Go to MarkDivine.com to subscribe and share it with your friends. Shout out to my great team, Jason Sanderson. Geoff Haskell and Catherine Divine will help bring these guests every week in this podcast as well as this newsletter. Thank you very much team, ratings and reviews are extraordinarily helpful. So please consider doing that. And do that either for my books, and for this podcast. Both really helpful. So thanks for being part of the change you want to see in the world. My mission is to make people stronger in body, mind and spirit and to develop world class teams. And to bring a large number of people into a much more positive mindset through this integrated development that I do at SEALFIT. If you want to learn more about our amazing programs, please go to SEALFIT.com. Learn what we’re up to and join our Unbeatable Team. Until next time, this is your host Mark Divine. Hooyah!


Transcribed by Catherine https://otter.ai



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