I was asked a great question recently:
"Is it possible to pay too much attention?"
This question arises from the feeling of mental exhaustion after working on something that demands concentration – like writing a report, sitting an exam, or attending a meeting for example.
We’ve all felt this at one time or another, but it’s not the application of attention that causes the exhaustion.
Think about a mental activity you love to do. It might be a certain type of reading or writing, or a particular type of conversation. I bet you don’t feel exhausted after giving those your full attention. In fact you probably feel energised.
So what causes that feeling of mental exhaustion?
It’s the effort of sharing or switching our attention between the task at hand and distractions. These distractions might even be self-generated, in the form of thoughts and ideas about the task, or the person involved, or other things we’d rather be doing.
It is certainly possible to give too much attention to those things!
So the next time it feels like you’re putting too much effort into paying attention (furrowed brows are a dead give-away) check where that extra effort's really going. Are you worrying about your performance, distracted by other things, or constructing some story about the task or your situation?
If so, take a short break. Remind yourself why this thing needs to be done, resolve to give it your best, and simply let the distracting thoughts go through to the keeper.
See if that reduces the effort.