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Attention and Human Performance

ATTENTION! ATTENTION; read all about it…

… literally!


Definition of ATTENTION:

– the ability to process environmental information


Areas where ATTENTION can be placed:

1) directed to external event

2) directed to internal sensory information

3) directed at internal mental operations


How to train Attention

  • clearly identify a main focus
  • slowly add in secondary focus
  • keep adding more foci



Complex movements or chains of movements (that is linking exercises one right after another) help sharpens your technique by forcing fast recall and execution of a movement pattern, followed by another different movement pattern, followed by another and another…

This constant alteration of movement patterns demands that you pay attention to what you are doing at all times. For this reason Complexes/Chains are one of the best ways to learn and retain new movement patterns (as well as previously mentioned, a great way to sharpen technique).

To directly train your ability to Focus consider numbers 1-3 above. You must choose one of them at first, and then slowly build complexity on top of it.

Here is a quick blurb on each of these topics:

1) External events:

  • life requires your attention whether you like it or not. Except for your thoughts EVERYTHING else is external. The simple amoeba would never have evolved into homo-sapiens if they were not aware of – and able to react to – their environment. Therefore on a deep evolutionary level, attention or awareness of the environment is critical to life itself.
  • in sport, reacting to environmental cues is a skill, and so is knowing which cues to be aware of (and which not) and how to react to them appropriately. Paying attention for certain environmental cues / signals / stimuli is also a skill, one that has been cultivated by professional athletes –  some intentionally through training and some naturally via genetics.
  • with every movement you perform you require environmental information to help orient yourself in space. In the gym you are given the chance to challenge these systems in a controlled environment.

2) Internal sensory information:

  • Say your knee hurts when you squat, take a really light weight and close your eyes. SLOWLY descend into your squat while keeping your torso slightly pressurized.  – your focus is to perceive where, when and why your pain is occurring – If you are moving slow enough you might be able to skip right past the point where pain usually occurs. If you encounter the pain again, figure out at what height you can comfortably get to and then get use to doing pause reps to that height. A few weeks later try this drill again.
  • in this way you will become better at recognizing your own movement ‘errors’. This ability to self correct ones movement is of major importance for injury prevention. knowledge is power! get a trainer to check for any potential danger signs in your movement patterns – hopefully they will also teach you good movement habits that encourage safety.

3) Internal mental operations:

  • when training with complex movements it is useful to automate chunks of it so as to open up more mental room for paying attention to the environment. To help the process of automation do some mental repetitions and/or ‘ghost’ reps (a body weight imitation of the movement).  Just like studying for a test, mental practice will make you more confident in performing the actual repetitions.
  • this subject however, is much more than just being aware of how you are moving – it is concerned with the psychological and motivational operations of the mind as well.  Therefore you can go as far as purposefully and scientifically incorporating different emotional states into your training. Hate? Anger? Determination? Gratitude? which emotion is ‘strongest’?
  • mental operations are also involved in movements that require a high level of timing. What is suggested when learning such movements is to “feel” your way through it. At high speeds the logical mind cannot keep up so one must rely on their intuitions and automated reactions.

* stay tuned for an article on Movement Automation *

Wikipedia defines attention as follows:

“Attention is the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information. Attention has also been referred to as the allocation of limited processing resources”



‘ignoring other … information’

‘limited … resources’

Does this sound very reliable?

That is because it is not …

Attention, or awareness, is a skill – Like concentration, attention is a muscle that needs to be flexed and its strength cultivated – In the name of heath and efficiency it just make sense to ‘pay attention’ while you work out.

Stop watching TV and learn something about your body. Or maybe be a movement scientist and explore different Attention modalities. Your body will thank you when you are older!

Put some ‘physical capital’ into the ‘bank’ now,

so that you can cash out later and live comfortably


I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it

Be Strong, Live long.