Why Can I Not Focus?

Cognitive Load Theory

I feel like this article in BBC by Dr Christian Jarrett explains a lot about what my mind has been doing recently. More importantly, it offers solutions. If you feel like you’re in a state of constant mental fatigue, you should read this.

Cognitive Load Theory discusses the idea that tasks are performed easily, on auto-pilot using long-term memory, if we are experts. For unfamiliar tasks, by contrast, we rely on our ‘working memory,’ which holds information for only short periods of time.

These days it seems information changes daily. We are constantly required to learn new things. Stress and other emotions interfere with working memory capacity. 

Distractions happen. Lately it feels that more of them happen – and they happen more often. “Extraneous cognitive load,” refers to “the demand on your working memory capacity imposed by distractions that are not directly relevant to what it is you’re trying to do.” If we’re worried about how to pay the rent or whether the kids are wearing their masks, it’s going to be hard to concentrate on the online board meeting. If the tv news is running in the background, it will be more difficult to focus on the book we’re trying to read.

Putting more tasks on auto-pilot can help. Establish new routines so that less thinking will be needed to complete each task. Manage stress in whatever way you can – eat well, exercise and establish a bedtime routine. But the biggest take-away for me is to quit multi-tasking. Organize your time and eliminate distractions. If I could accomplish that, I think I could accomplish anything.

“Allow your mind to focus on one thing at a time and you’ll be rewarded by feeling less mentally exhausted,” says Dr Jarrett. I’m looking forward to his new book, ‘Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change’ due out sometime in 2021.

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