Our energy hungry attention spotlight

Attention deficit: Ever wonder why we tend to turn down the radio when we approach a new destination while driving?


Keeping mental focus is like an energy hungry spotlight and doing two new things at once consumes too much energy.  We can easily do two things we have done before (e.g. drive and tune the radio station), but new activities require more focus and energy. This is why we turn down the radio when we approach a new destination.  It allows our energy hungry attention spotlight to efficiently focus on the task at hand – finding the destination. One of the reasons it is so energy hungry is that our brains must filter out all the distractions.

Our energy hungry brains can only focus on one narrow area at a time. If that area of attention doesn’t capture our mental focus, our minds wander. If you have ever got distracted in the middle of an important session if you felt overwhelmed with information, this is a version of the spotlight. Using our mental spotlight is energetically costly so we need to use it sparingly.energy hungry attention spotlight pay attention focus

Energy hungry Brain Functions

Certain brain functions require more energy. The functions using the pre-frontal cortex of our brains require considerably more resources than we sometimes realise. Once we fully understand the limitations of our brains (the amount of energy and oxygen each task requires) we tend to plan our day differently.

1. Understanding. In order for us to understand a new concept our brain must focus on a thought, and hold it long enough to connect it to our existing ideas, knowledge or experiences.

2. Decision-making. To make decisions we have to hold two thoughts in our brains at the same time, and compare them based on our beliefs and values. We often do this when we read an email and have to decide how to respond.

3. Memory. To remember new information we need to get information out of our short term working memory and into our long term memory. This requires a considerable amount of effort, time and energy when we try learn by rote. A more effective approach to memorising information is to dynamically interact with content (use all our senses), rather than just memorising it (as a list). This also leads to better recall of the information.

4. Recall. To recall information we need to give that memory our primary focus. The older the memory, the more time and focus it may take to find it. Our brains can easily become distracted during this recall process and sometimes we give up as it takes too much energy to recall the memories.

5. Restraint. When we are supposed to be concentrating (e.g. in a meeting) working to keep our brains from focusing on other things can be exhausting. Keeping distractions at bay can require a lot of effort. It is also central to our normal functions in life.Energy hungry Brain Functions Infographic

Brain-Smart meeting planning

Conscious mental activity uses up a significant amount of our energy and metabolic resources. Thinking is hard work that can tire our bodies quickly, as well as eat up considerable resources. Creating meetings crammed full of information dumps sets our brains up to fail. We need sufficient breaks and healthy food to replenish our metabolic resources. Trying to keep a constant focus on mentally energy hungry tasks (understanding, decision making, etc)  for too long doesn’t work and we end up making poor choices. Our energy hungry attention spotlight.

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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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