I can typically tell within the first few minutes. Family members want to engage Mom, Dad or their spouse when they see their memory or cognitive function failing. They reach out to us for assistance. One of my first questions is “are they motivated?” It is extremely difficult to help someone who does not want assistance or isn’t motivated to make a change, whether it’s memory wellness or anything else in life. However, someone who has an inner drive to change behavior or achieve a goal can very easily thrive with additional education and opportunities to engage.
A new research study on distractibility demonstrated how motivation is a key element in how we accomplish tasks. Researchers at the University of Illinois psychology department found when the need for heightened focus is required, we can essentially block out more distractions. This finding went against the current theory assuming we are more distracted with more difficult tasks. They also found our internal “motivation is just as important for sustained attention to a task as is the ease with which the task is done.”
The researchers hypothesized then demonstrated via reactions to visual distractions that our “ability to avoid being distracted is not driven primarily by the difficulty of the task, but is likely the result of an individual’s level of engagement with the endeavor”, something they termed the “engagement theory of distractibility.”
The results identify how the difficulty of a task alone doesn’t predict distractibility. Our ability to allow ourselves to be distracted also includes the internal decision on how much to cognitively engage. It speaks to our underlying motivation.
Think of elite professional athletes able to block out the noise of thousands of fans to concentrate on the task at hand. Or an engaged scientist who ignores hunger pains to finish an experiment. We do this when we focus very intently driving on an icy road because we are motivated to avoid an accident. I see this time and again in my own life and the lives of our clients.
How much motivation we have for any given task will correlate to how much we are able to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. This is not to say people with memory issues lack motivation. Many desire to improve their memory and cognitive function, but are unsure how to do it. MemoryMinders’ mission is to provide various options and services to assist those motivated to engage their mind and memory for a better quality of life. But even those initially unmotivated can often benefit with increased awareness and engagement.
How strong our intrinsic motivation is toward a task or goal is a key indicator of our ability to focus, as this study demonstrates. If you need to be less distracted in life, seek out and understand your internal motivation. Then pursue it without distraction to accomplish the tasks needed for your mind, memory and overall wellness.
Journal Reference: Simona Buetti, Alejandro Lleras. Distractibility is a function of engagement, not task difficulty: Evidence from a new oculomotor capture paradigm.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2016; 145 (10): 1382 DOI: 10.1037/xge0000213