Bartenders Reveal Drink Stereotypes

By Mustafa Gatollari – Distractify

When I had my first drink, I didn’t have much of a frame of reference, but I knew that a drink order says a lot about a person. So I chose wisely and just imitated whoever I thought was cool when I was growing up. And there’s no one cooler than Clint Eastwood in any Western, ever.

So I ordered myself a whiskey. Neat. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t like the flavor. But I stuck with that drink every time I went out with my friends. I tried different types of whiskey and settled on Jameson. Why? Image. It was all image.

Although I don’t really drink that much anymore, when I do, I let my best friend either make my drink or at least decide what I should be sippin’ on (he’s an amazing bartender), because I clearly have no idea what I’m doing. And he’s probably doing me a solid by making me look like I’m somewhat cultured in front of other bartenders. Because, as I’ve learned in this AskReddit post, there are stereotypes associated with particular drinks and they can get pretty judgmental.

01
Long Island Iced Teas.

Long Island Iced Teas rarely get tips and are almost always asked to “make it strong.” It’s nearly an entire cup of liquor how tf am I supposed to make it stronger.

Di5c0_T

02
Shirley Temples.

As a grown man who orders Shirley Temples I can say the stereotype is usually that I’m joking.

I’m not.

smallerthings

03
Watermelon Bacardi Breezers.

Used to be a bartender in a pub in London. Typical pub, you’re selling a lot of beer, the odd cider or glass of wine. There was a local gangster-type that even the other hard [men] in the pub used to be wary of. Friendly enough guy, but definitely not someone anyone wanted to be on the wrong side of. He drank nothing but bright pink Watermelon Bacardi Breezers. Taught me not to judge.

Uberman77

04
Bud Light.

Guy walks in and puts his sunglasses on the back of his head.

“Here’s your Bud Light, sir.”

caesar315

05
Younger dudes love their IPAs.

From my experience, if you order a Bud Light/Miller Light/Budweiser with a shot of bourbon or whiskey, you probably work a manual labor intensive job. Most older women want vodka with water/tonic/soda. Younger women tend to order vodka with cranberry or sweeter mixed drinks. Younger men tend to order IPA’s or Craft Beers. I can always tell who just turned 21 due to all the complex sweet shots with fancy names being ordered. Old ladies that want to party usually start with Margaritas. I bartend on the weekends at a shot-and-beer spot, so I don’t get a lot variety.

Modod_

06
Vegas Bombs.

Vegas bombs. Either having a great time and one guy is flexing cash with a bunch of friends…will tip well.

OR

[Annoying dude] flexing cash around random people he barely knows. Will not tip well.

Edit: TIL Vegas Bombs may not be as common as I once thought.

WetParchmentPaper

07
Double Brandy and Coke.

Double Brandy and Coke means you’re probably from South Africa.

Edit: TIL also very popular amongst Babushkas and Wisconsinites. Who woulda thunk it.

Scarlet_Rad

08
Pint of Bitter.

I’m a middle aged man who is going to stand by the bar silently until my other middle aged man friend comes and then we’re going to sit silently and watch football and only speak to ask whose round it is. Always a lovely bloke though.

Whapwhaaap

09
Vodka + Water + Lime.

Vodka-water with lime for the sorority girl who wants to cut calories, then drinks 8 of them and gets blackout pizza from the place next door.

 FREAK_DOLPHIN_RAPE

10
Lemon Drop.

The woman who ordered a Lemon Drop is the only person to this day who has screamed at me at work, so I’ll say that’s a drink for high maintenance as*h*les .

hashtagpueb

11
Expensive cocktails.

They want an expensive cocktail and when you tell [them] the price they start arguing with you that it is way to expensive and that they can make it at home for half the price…… 

 porgporg666

12
This entire drink order.

When a customer orders a Fireball for himself, a Coke for his young friend, some … shots for the two ladies with their boyfriends across the bar, and two Cosmopolitans for their boyfriends…. A damn cool bar-fight is about to happen. 

redfoot62

13
Manhattans.

Ordering Manhattans while in NYC because of the novelty, not knowing that it’s mostly bourbon, then saying it’s too strong.

 acunderthetree

14
Jack and Coke.

You’ll be fighting someone in a few hours.  

GoodLivinPete

15
Asking for extra booze. Not expecting to pay for it.

“Add extra vodka to my drink”

I give them the bill.

“Why are you charging me for extra alcohol?”

…Idiot.

 Danysco

16
Passionfruit Martinis.

[Passionfruit] Martinis – I’m going to be loud and obnoxious all night, and my vomit is going to be neon orange when I’ve drank 5 of these. 

 chlomydia

17
Boilermakers.

Any variety of boilermaker…guaranteed the customer is an alcoholic.

I had a guy who would regularly order 22 oz. bottles of some limited run micro-brew. He preferred the beer poured over ice with a shot of vodka added. He also didn’t own a vehicle, unless you count a bicycle as a vehicle. Here’s to you, Voodoo Child.

 SpudFlaps

18
Jägerbombs.

Jagerbombs are ordered by students [who] just want to get f**ked up asap.

 Wise3D

19
Bourbon Old-Fashioned.

My go-to is a bourbon Old Fashioned. A bartender once told me this means I’m an old woman from the South.

 UncleTrustworthy

20
Piña Colada.

Piña Colada – you care more about flavor than image. Also want to be in the Caribbean.

 CodyLeet

21
“White Russians.”

“One Caucasian, please” – neckbeard fedora dude ordered about 10 White Russians from me one night and called them “Caucasians” every time while chuckling to himself every time he came up to the bar .

wisc0

22
Cosmo.

Cosmo – This person is almost certainly a pain in the a**.

thatguyfromnewyork

23
And finally, here’s a consummate professional saying all the right things.

I work pretty exclusively in small cocktail bars. Ones that seat 50ish people tops and you’re expected to be able to have a good chat with the bartender, and rely on their classic knowledge. Aussie, so we don’t even expect tips. Since this thread turned into a bit of a judgement fest and [spurred] some insecurity from people about their drink orders, I thought I’d talk about that.

Honestly, there’s not much I’d judge you for as long as you don’t complain about the outcome. Unless someone absolutely knows what they want, they usually get a spiel asking what they like or if they like sweet/sour/dry/etc.

Long Island Ice Teas are a valid drink, but you’re only getting 10-15mls of each spirit (Aussie limitations).

Cosmos are an excellent cocktail. But it’s coming out lime-heavy and a nice opaque soft pink instead of the cartoonishly pink they appear on TV.

Want your Martini shaken? Oh baby, I love a Vesper Martini. But it’s gonna be half gin, half vodka, and a healthy dose of cocchi Americano (the only common-enough vermouth similar to the now-extinct original vermouth used in the James Bond original).

Old fashioned? Rum, rye or bourbon? I might throw a little bit of a spiel your way about the wonderful world of Sazeracs if you look like the adventurous type.

Want something sweet that you can’t really taste the booze in? Enjoy your Charlie Chaplin. You like Gin-Tonics but don’t really know cocktails? Enjoy your Hendricks Smash. You like sours and want to try something knew? Bam, Trinidad Sour for the wild ones, New York Sour for something safe. You like French Martinis? Get the hell out of my bar (jokes, enjoy your Charlie Chaplin).

To be completely honest, if you ever feel like you’re being judged for your drink choice, then that’s just pretty cruddy service. Because frankly, even if they are judging you, you definitely shouldn’t know about it. If you live in larger cities, try small cocktail bars if you genuinely don’t know your own tastes. If they’re good enough, they should be happy to help you find something to your tastes.

EDIT: Cleaned up the links a bit. Thanks guys, I don’t post much.

Since a lot of people are asking, I’m Sydney-based but I won’t give any direct recommendations since the small cocktail bar scene is super insular and there’s probably a couple bartenders who could work out who I am pretty easily. My advice: Search up ‘small cocktail bars Sydney’ and when you head out, ask for recommendations for other cool bars from the bartender. 80% chance you either started at my bar, or it’s on the list somewhere.

How to Craft the Perfect Comeback, According to Experts

BY Talib Visram – Mental Floss

In a 1997 episode of Seinfeld called “The Comeback,” George Costanza is merrily stuffing himself with free shrimp at a meeting. His coworker mocks him: “Hey, George, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” George stands humiliated as laughter fills the room, his mind searching frantically for the perfect riposte.

It’s only later, on the drive home, that he thinks of the comeback. But the moment has passed.

More from mental floss studios
Club soda, seltzer, or sparkling water?

The common human experience of thinking of the perfect response too late—l’esprit de l’escalier, or “the wit of the staircase”—was identified by French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was so overwhelmed by an argument at a party that he could only think clearly again once he’d gotten to the bottom of the stairs.

We’ve all been there. Freestyle rappers, improv comedians, and others who rely on witty rejoinders for a living say their jobs make them better equipped to seize the opportunity for clever retorts in everyday life. They use a combination of timing, listening, and gagging their inner critics. Here are their insights for crafting the perfect comeback.

LISTEN TO YOUR OPPONENT’S ARGUMENT.

The next time you’re in a heated conversation, be less focused on what you’re about to say and more attentive to what you’re actually responding to. When you spend more time considering what your sparring partner is saying, “you’re deferring your response until you’ve fully heard the other person,” Jim Tosone, a technology executive-turned-improv coach who developed the Improv Means Business program, tells Mental Floss. Your retorts may be more accurate, and therefore more successful, when you’re fully engaged with the other person’s thoughts.

DON’T THINK TOO MUCH.

According to Belina Raffy, the CEO of the Berlin-based company Maffick—which also uses improv skills in business—not overthinking the situation is key. “You’re taking yourself out of unfolding reality if you think too much,” she tells Mental Floss. It’s important to be in the moment, and to deliver your response to reflect that moment.

TRAIN THAT SPONTANEOUS MENTAL MUSCLE.

History’s most skilled comeback artists stored witticisms away for later use, and were able to pull them out of their memory at the critical time.

Winston Churchill was known for his comebacks, but Tim Riley, director and chief curator at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, tells Mental Floss that many of his burns were borrowed. One of his most famous lines was in response to politician Bessie Braddock’s jab, “Sir, you are drunk.” The prime minister replied, “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”

Riley says this line was copied from comic W.C. Fields. Nevertheless, it took quick thinking to remember and reshape the quote in the moment, which is why Churchill was thought of as a master of timing. “It was an off-the-cuff recall of something he had synthesized, composed earlier, and that he was waiting to perform,” Riley says.

But in some situations, the retort must be created entirely in the moment. Training for spontaneity on stage also helps with being quicker-witted in social situations, New York City battle rap emcee iLLspokinn tells Mental Floss. It’s like working a spontaneous muscle that builds with each flex, so, you’re incrementally better each time at seizing that witty opportunity.

MUZZLE YOUR INNER CRITIC.

Anyone who has been in the audience for an improv show has seen how rapidly performers respond to every situation. Improv teaches you to release your inhibitions and say what drops into your mind: “It’s about letting go of the need to judge ourselves,” Raffy explains.

One way to break free of your internal editor might be to imagine yourself on stage. In improv theater, the funniest responses occur in the spur of the moment, says Douglas Widick, an improv performer who trained with Chicago’s Upright Citizens Brigade. By not letting one’s conscience be one’s guide, actors can give into their “deepest fantasies” and say the things they wouldn’t say in real life.

IF YOU HAVE AN EXTRA SECOND, HONE YOUR ZINGER.

The German version of Diderot’s term is Treppenwitz, also meaning the wit of the stairs. But the German phrase has evolved to mean the opposite: Something said that, in retrospect, was a bad joke. When squaring up to your rival, the high you get from spearing your opponent with a deadly verbal thrust can be shadowed by its opposite, the low that comes from blurting out a lame response that lands like a lead balloon.

That’s a feeling that freestyle rapper Lex Rush hopes to avoid. “In the heat of the battle, you just go for it,” she tells Mental Floss. She likens the fight to a “stream of consciousness” that unfolds into the mic, which leaves her with little control over what she’s projecting into the crowd.

It may help to mull over your retort if you have a few extra seconds—especially if you’re the extroverted type. “Introverts may walk out of a meeting thinking, ‘Why didn’t I say that?’ while extroverts think, ‘Why did I say that?’” Tosone, the improv coach, says. Thinking before you speak, even just briefly, will help you deploy a successful comeback.

And if it doesn’t go your way, iLLspokinn advises brushing off your missed opportunity rather than dwelling on your error: “It can be toxic to hold onto it.”

THROW DIGITAL SHADE ACCORDING TO THE SAME RULES—BUT BE QUICK ABOUT IT.

Texting and social media, as opposed to face-to-face contact, give you a few extra minutes to think through your responses. That could improve the quality of your zinger. “We’re still human beings, even on screens. And we prefer something that is well-stated and has a fun energy and wit about it,” Scott Talan, a social media expert at American University, tells Mental Floss.

But don’t wait too long: Replies lose their punch after a day or so. “Speed is integral to wit, whether in real life or screen life,” Talan says. “If you’re trying to be witty and have that reputation, then speed will help you.”

Some companies have excelled in deploying savage social media burns as marketing strategies, winning viral retweets and recognition. The Wendy’s Twitter account has become so well known for its sassy replies that users often provoke it. “Bet you won’t follow me @Wendys,” a user challenged. “You won that bet,” Wendy’s immediately shot back.

George Costanza learns that lesson when he uses his rehearsed comeback at the next meeting. After his colleague repeats his shrimp insult, George stands and proudly announces, “Oh yeah? Well, the jerk store called, and they’re running out of you!”

There’s silence—until his nemesis comes back with a lethal move: “What’s the difference? You’re their all-time best-seller.”

Obscenely Extravagant Ways Rich Celebs Live Their Lives

By Tiffany White – Distractify

While most of us cry every time we look at our student loan payments, celebrities are lucky enough to have money to blow on the most ridiculous purchases. And no, we’re not just talking about a $10,000 purse or a million-dollar house — we’re talking about signs of wealth that go beyond the norm, from miniature dog mansions to paying a full-time person to simply hold their drinks.

Below, a few examples of stars’ most exorbitant splurges. (Get ready to feel broke.)

01 They buy $14 million heart-shaped islands as gifts.

Back during happier times when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were still together, they weren’t shy about buying insanely expensive gifts for each other. In 2013, Angelina reportedly bought her ex-husband a heart-shaped island as a present for his 50th birthday. The island came with two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed properties already on the premises, making it the perfect romantic getaway.

Of course, now that the two are divorced, it’s unclear who gets to keep the island. But can you imagine that scene in divorce court? “He can have the French villa, but the heart-shaped island is mine!”

02 They buy first-class airplane seats just for their hats.

A few years ago, U2 frontman Bono was bummed when he accidentally left his hat in London after flying to Italy. Unable to bear being away from his precious accessory, he bought a $1,700 first-class seat for his hat alone and flew it to Italy. With a net worth of $520 million, you’d think he would’ve just purchased himself a new hat, but I suppose that’s not how rich people think.

03 They buy their kids miniature Lamborghinis.

For Christmas, when most kids were opening up their $60 Hatchimals, Kim Kardashian’s daughter, North West, was tearing off the wrapping paper of her new mini Lamborghini. The miniature electric car was designed to look just like Kanye West’s real Lamborghini. On top of that, she also got heaps of designer clothes. Lucky kid.

04 They rent out the Eiffel Tower.

For the average person, a trip to Paris might include a romantic stroll around the Eiffel Tower alongside hundreds of other annoying tourists, but for Kim and Kanye, they just rent the whole place out instead. At least that’s what Kanye did back in 2015 for his vow renewal. We’re unsure how much it costs to rent out the Eiffel Tower, but my hunch is a lot.

05 They buy entire vineyards as birthday gifts.

Why buy a bottle of wine when you can buy the entire vineyard? That’s what David Beckham did for his wife Victoria back in 2008. According to reports, David surprised her by handing her a bottle with her name on it during a day trip to the winery. Although the actual sum he paid was never revealed, it was suspected to be in the millions.

06 They buy $2 million humidifiers.

When Celine Dion began her residency in Vegas, a $96 million special venue was built just for her. On top of that, the one-of-a-kind building also came with a $2 million humidifier to spray fine mist from the top of the stage to help Celine’s voice stay fresh in the desert heat. Despite all the exorbitant spending, she still had to take four months off in 2008 for “inflamed” vocal chords. Sounds like the humidifier didn’t even work.

07 They buy mansions for their dogs.

In addition to being toted around in a bag, Paris’ five dogs also get to chill in a miniature dog mansion that cost $325,000.

“It’s a miniature version of my house,” Paris told Life & Style. “I designed it with the help of my interior decorator, Faye Resnick. I wanted it to be fun, cute, comfortable and beautiful. My friends just love it and think it’s so adorable and cool.”

Wow, Paris’ dogs live better than we do.

08 They pay people just to hold their drinks.

Why entrust your precious glass of champagne to servers or even (gasp) a table when you can just hire someone to carry your drink around full-time? Yes, Mariah Carey, queen of the divas, does this, but are you really that surprised?

“There was a woman that held her drink with a straw,” her vocal coaches David and Carrie Grant revealed. “That’s all she does, flies around the world as a drinks holder.”

You know, on second thought, that doesn’t sound like a bad job.

09 They impulsively buy whole towns.

Back in 1989, Kim Basinger purchased the town of Braselton, Georgia and planned to turn it into a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, when the Oscar-winning actress went bankrupt in 1995, she had to sell the town to pay off her debts. Who knew the plot for Schitt’s Creek was based on real life?

10 They hire whole fire brigades to protect their estates.

When Star Wars director George Lucas purchased Skywalker Ranch in California for $100 million, he needed to protect his pricey investment. Since the property was so huge, he hired 12 full-time firefighters and bought a fire truck to help keep the estate safe. However, the bigger question is why is Skywalker Ranch going up in flames so often?

11 They spend $100,000 on leggings.

Typically when we think of leggings we think of those “five for $5” deals at Target. They’re not the most expensive item of clothing — although they might be if you’re Beyoncé. Back in 2007, she bought a pair of gold Balenciaga leggings made of cashmere and real metal that cost a cool $100,000. Obviously, Queen B herself could afford it, but the leggings definitely go down as some of the most expensive in history.

12 They have human alarm clocks.

When you’re a celebrity, you never have to worry about accidentally sleeping through your alarm clock. Actor Mark Wahlberg employs a personal assistant to wake him up every morning. And if the personal assistant accidentally sleeps in? Well, then I guess he’s just screwed.

13 They buy bathtubs designed to form their bodies.

Honestly, Oprah Winfrey is so stupidly rich, nothing she does surprises me. One look at her “Favorite Things” list will tell you how much she loves purchasing insanely expensive things. That said, the custom tub she had designed is probably the most “out there” of her purchases.

“It was carved to the shape of my body,” she said on The Late Late Show With James Corden. “They create a cast model, you lie inside it, and then, yeah.”

Woooow.

14 They waste money on ghost readers.

Most average people don’t have the sums to pursue weird hobbies, but that’s not the case with celebrities. Back in 2010, Lady Gaga was really into ghost hunting. So naturally, she purchased a $50,000 electro-magnetic field reader to hunt ghouls while on tour. And I thought “ghostbusters” was just a movie.

15 They pay people to watch their shoes.

Basketball player Nick Young has such an impressive shoe collection, he hires two men to watch over his 500-plus pairs of sneakers to make sure none get stolen. And if you think that sounds crazy, he also has plans to build a “shoe house.”

A Six-Legged Robot Flowerpot That Interacts With Its Environment to Meet the Needs of the Onboard Plant

Rotating HEXA
Rotating Towards Light

Tianqi Sun, the founder of the Chinese robotics company Vincross has transformed one of its signature creations, the HEXA, into a very smart six-legged robot flowerpot. The robot interacts with the its environment to efficiently meet the needs of the onboard plant. If the plant needs light, it can move itself over a patch of sunshine or rotate towards it, if it needs food or water, it can make a request with gestures and if it wants human interaction, that can be done too.

Plants are passive. Eternally, inexplicably passive. No matter if they are being cut, bitten, burned or pulled from the earth, or when they lack sunshine, water, or are too hot or cold, they will hold still and take whatever is happening to them. They have the fewest degrees of freedom among all the creatures in nature. This is simply the default setting that nature gives to plants. …With a robotic rover base, plants can experience mobility and interaction. I do hope that this project can bring some inspiration to the relationship between technology and natural default settings.

HEXA Flowerpot

Sunshine Hexa
Walking to Sunshine

Grumpy HEXA
Grumpy (needing something)

Playful HEXA
Playful

Your Concentration Training Program: 11 Exercises That Will Strengthen Your Attention

By Brett & Kate McKayArt of Manliness.com

In this series on mastering your attention, we have emphasized the fact that attention is not just the ability to focus on a single task without being distracted, but in fact is comprised of several different elements that must be effectively managed.

But this doesn’t mean that single-minded focus is not of paramount importance. Yesterday we compared managing your different kinds of attention to being the supreme commander of your mind – you must be able to deftly maneuver and deploy your units to various battles. But good management can only get you so far; to win the war on distraction, the absolute strength of your voluntary attention — your focus foot soldiers – greatly matters.

Research has shown that individuals who can sustain their attention for long periods of time perform better on all sorts of cognitive challenges than those who cannot. A man with a scatter-shot attention span will only be able to experience one plane of existence; he can skim across the surface of the world’s vast knowledge and wisdom, but is unable to dive deeper and discover the treasures below. The man with an iron-clad focus can do both; he is the boat captain and the pearl diver and the world is truly his oyster.

If you have a goal to learn and understand as much about the world as you possibly can before you die, strengthening your power of concentration is not an option, it’s a necessity.

Think of Your Mind as a Muscle

Last time we used the analogy of being supreme commander of your mind to explain attention management; when it comes to attention strengthening, we’d encourage you to think of your mind as a muscle. The parallels between strengthening your body and strengthening your mind are in fact so close that it’s really not so much an analogy as a description of reality.

Your physical muscles and your attention “muscles” both have a limited amount of strength at any given time, their stamina and power can either atrophy from inactivity or strengthen from vigorous, purposeful exercise, and they require rest and recovery after they’ve been intensely exerted.

You get the same feeling of internal dread/doubt right before you begin an intense workout – the one that says “I’m not sure I want to do this” – as you do right before you decide whether or not you’re going to read a long article, and in both cases you have to set your mind, bite down, and get going with it.

Just as you can hit a wall in a tough workout where you think you can’t do one more rep, in the middle of reading a long article your mind will want to quit and surf to another tab. In both cases, if you tell yourself to dig deeper, you’ll be surprised how much more strength and focus you actually have left in the tank.

And while everyone’s looking for cool new “secrets” for how to build both their body and mind – shortcuts and hacks heretofore undiscovered – the truth is that strengthening our physical and mental muscles comes down to plain, good old fashioned, highly unsexy work. Gaining strength in either area is ultimately about eating right, getting ample sleep, and engaging in challenging daily exercise.

So put on your lifting belt and chalk up your cranium. We’re going to hit the mental gym and turn your focus into a beast. Below, you’ll find your brain’s workout plan.

Your Concentration Training Program: 11 Exercises That Will Strengthen Your Attention

You’ll never get big muscles from sitting on the couch all day, and you’ll never develop amazing powers of concentration from exclusively reading Buzzfeed and watching Tosh.O. Your mind muscles, just like your physical muscles, need resistance; they need challenges that stretch their limits and in so doing, grow their focus fibers. Below we outline exercises that will beef up your focus so that you can start lifting heavier and heavier cognitive loads.

1. Increase the strength of your focus gradually. If you decide you want to physically get in shape, but are starting at ground zero, the worst thing you can do is to throw yourself into an extreme training program – you’ll end up injured, discouraged, or both, and you’ll quit before you even really get started.

Likewise, if your attention span is currently quite flabby, it’s best to slowly build up the weight you ask it to lift. In this series we’ve mentioned trying the “Pomodoro Method” in which you work for, say, 45 minutes straight and then allow yourself a 15-minute break. But for many of us, 45 minutes might as well be a mind marathon!

So start out with a pretty easy goal and work your way up from there. Set a timer for 5 minutes and focus completely on your work/reading for that time period. Then take a 2-minute break before going at it again for another 5 minutes. Each day, add another 5 minutes to your focused work time, along with an additional 2 minutes to your break time. In 9 days, you should be able to work for 45 minutes straight before you allow yourself an 18-minute break. Once you get comfortable with that set-up, you can work to lengthen your focus sessions a little, while shortening your break times.

2. Create a distraction to-do list. Because the internet has made any bit of information instantly accessible, we tend to want to look something up the moment it crosses our mind. “I wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow?” “What year did that movie come out?” “I wonder what’s new in my Facebook feed?” Consequently, we’ll toggle away from what we’re working on the instant these questions or thoughts pop into our minds. Problem is, once we get distracted, it takes on average 25(!) minutes to return to our original task. Plus, shifting our attention back and forth drains its strength.

So to stay on task, whenever something you want to check out pops into your head, just write it down on a piece of paper next to you (or perhaps in Evernote for you tech types), and promise yourself you’ll be able to look it up once your focusing session is over and your break time has arrived.

3. Build your willpower. Voluntary attention and willpower are intimately entwined. Our willpower allows us to deliberately ignore distractions while staying focused on the task at hand. It would serve your attention span well to review our in-depth article on strengthening your willpower.

4. Meditate. Not only does meditation help keep you cool, calm, and collected, research has also shown again and again that mindfulness meditation can boost your attention span significantly.

In one study, 140 volunteers took part in an eight-week course in meditation training. After the eight weeks, all the volunteers showed measurable improvements in attention span, as well as other executive mental functions.

You don’t have to spend your days meditating in a monastery to take advantage of its attention-boosting power. Research has shown that just 10 to 20 minutes of meditation a day will do the trick. What’s more, you’ll even see improvements in your attention after just four days.

So if you want the power to focus on your studies for hours at a time, start your mornings off just focusing on your breath for a few minutes.

5. Practice mindfulness throughout the day. In addition to dedicating 10 to 20 minutes a day to mindfulness meditation, attention experts recommend finding opportunities to practice mindfulness throughout your day. Mindfulness is simply focusing completely on what you’re doing, slowing down, and observing all of the physical and emotional sensations you are experiencing in that moment.

You can practice mindfulness when you eat as you take time to really chew your food and concentrate on its flavors and texture. You can practice mindfulness when you shave; as you smell your shaving cream, note the pleasure of applying a warm lather to your face, and slowly drag the razor across your stubble.

Incorporating short sessions of mindfulness throughout your day will strengthen and expand your attention span for the times when you really need it.

Mindfulness can also help you push back against distractions as they arise. If you’re working on a task and feel that restless itch to go do something else, think to yourself, “Be here now.” In that moment, bring your awareness to your body and your breath. After a few seconds of focusing on your breath, you’ll notice that the distraction is no longer present and that you’re ready to get back to work.

6. Exercise (your body). Not only can you compare exercising your mind to exercising your body, doing the latter actually directly benefits the former. Researchers have found that students who engaged in moderate physical exercise before taking a test that measured attention spans performed better than students who didn’t exercise. The researchers found that exercise primarily helps our brain’s ability to ignore distractions, although they aren’t exactly sure why. I would venture to say that the discipline it takes to push through the pain of a workout strengthens the same supply of willpower that we use to ignore the itch of distractions in order to keep working/focusing.

7. Memorize stuff. We’ve talked about memorization on the site before. Besides being a cool bar trick and providing you a fount of poems to recite at the drop of a hat, memorizing stuff is an excellent way to exercise your mind muscles. Make it a goal to memorize a poem or a verse of scripture each week.

What About Attention Training Games?

Brain training games have received a lot of press in recent years. You’ve probably seen commercials for Lumosity or Brain Age on Nintendo DS. The games’ creators claim that spending just a few minutes a day playing can improve your attention, memory, and mental agility. However, the research on the veracity of these claims is divided.

Some studies indicate that brain training games can help improve attention in children with ADHD or in the elderly, but that they don’t benefit young, healthy adults.

Other studies show that while certain brain training games can boost attention levels, those gains don’t crossover to other areas of life. In other words, brain training games can help people pay better attention and do better at brain training games, but they won’t help people pay better attention in class or while studying.

A recent study showed a certain type of brain training game called n-back can improve working memory (an important aspect of attention) and that improvement can crossover to other cognitive challenges.

So what does this all mean? The verdict is still out on whether these brain games will definitively increase attention spans and further research needs to be done. It won’t hurt to try them out as part of your attention training program, but include the other suggestions outlined here as well.

8. Read long stuff slowly. Fight the TL;DR culture. With the rise of tablets, e-readers, and smartphones, some studies indicate that reading of e-content in general has gone up nearly 40%. This is a good thing, right? You’d think so, except that Slate recently did some research with the help of website analytics company Chartbeart that determined that only a paltry 5% of readers who start an article online will actually finish it. What’s more, 38% of readers never scroll beyond the first few paragraphs. So to say that reading in general has gone up would be misleading. What we’re actually doing is more scrolling, and less engaging.

At the same time, we’re reading less books; a recent study showed that 25% of Americans didn’t read a single book last year.

This is truly a shame. While long definitely does not automatically equal better, there are certain complex ideas that are impossible to condense into short list posts and require an entire book (or several books) to flesh out. To skip something simply because it is long is to miss out on a whole world of knowledge available only to those willing to dive deeper. There’s definitely a place for skimming online, and learning a little about a lot. But you should also make room for plunging into a few subjects whole hog.

If you haven’t read a book in awhile, I challenge you to pick one up tonight. Really try to dig into it. Learn how to read a book properly; it’ll change your life.

Besides books, make an effort to read one or two long articles a week. Longform journalism, as it’s called, is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, and the amount of quality, in-depth content available is at an all-time high. A few of my favorite sources of longform articles:

  • Longreads.com
  • Longform.org
  • Arts and Letters Daily
  • The Economist
  • The New Yorker
  • The Art of Manliness (Always strives to publish comprehensive posts that are as useful as possible. Also, I hear its founder has a glorious mustache.)

9. Stay curious. The more curious you are about the world, the greater the stamina of your concentration will be when it comes to any endeavor. William James suggests a simple experiment to test how staying curious about the object of your attention can prolong your ability to stay focused on it:

“Try to attend steadfastly to a dot on the paper or on the wall. You presently find that one or the other of two things has happened: either your field of vision has become blurred, so that you now see nothing distinct at all, or else you have involuntarily ceased to look at the dot in question, and are looking at something else. But, if you ask yourself successive questions about the dot,—how big it is, how far, of what shape, what shade of color, etc.; in other words, if you turn it over, if you think of it in various ways, and along with various kinds of associates,—you can keep your mind on it for a comparatively long time. This is what the genius does, in whose hands a given topic coruscates and grows.”

Charles Darwin was a master of this concept. His contemporaries marveled at his ability to spend an entire day just staring at animals and plants. Darwin’s secret was his unflagging curiosity – he could discover more and more about a single object by homing in on various details, examining it in different ways, asking new questions. Bit by bit he would peel back its layers.

10. Practice attentive listening. Focus isn’t just useful for intellectual endeavors. It’s also an essential interpersonal skill. The ability to be fully present with a loved one or friend builds your rapport, intimacy, and trust and with them. At the same time, making an effort to focus all your energy on someone else strengthens your concentration muscles overall. It’s win-win. So next time you’re talking with your main squeeze, put away your phone and listen as attentively as possible.

11. Perform concentration exercises. The above exercises not only boost your focus, but offer other benefits as well. Every once in a while, however, it’s good to do some exercises that are aimed purely at boosting your concentration. Here are twelve to try.

Series Conclusion

Modernity has given us a lot of comforts and conveniences, but it has also unleashed a torrent of stimuli competing for our attention. To live a truly flourishing life amidst this cacophony of distractions, mastering your attention is key. At the end of your life, who you’ve become, what you’ve learned and accomplished, and who’s there at the end with you will be the sum total of what you chose to pay attention to each year, day, and hour of your life. Will a series of cat videos flash before your eyes? Or will you look back on the deep conversations you had with your family and friends, the books that changed your life, and the little details you discovered in all the places you visited?

We hope our series on attention has gotten you to think about this increasingly precious commodity in a new light, as well as inspired you to take steps to improve it. You’ll be amazed how much your life can improve just by paying attention to your attention.