Notice a noise in your background.
It could be the sound of the ducted heating or the traffic outside your house.
Now, try and block out that sound.
You’re probably noticing your attention goes to it even more.
Try harder to block it out.
That sound is becoming more intrusive, isn’t it?
Many people, particularly those working from home, try to concentrate by attempting to block out sounds they’re not wanting to notice, explains Dr Craig Hassed, mindfulness coordinator at Monash University.
They, as a result, become hyper-vigilant for them, he said.
From a mindfulness perspective, there’s no need to block anything out.
“It’s more a matter of just choosing what to be interested in or not interested in,” Dr Hassed said.
He said the more interested you are in whatever you’re doing, the more the other things just recede into the background.
Though if you’re stressed or not that engaged in your work – but you’ve got to get it done anyway – you may be more distractible.
Listening to white noise can help.
“White noise is just the noise that your mind is not particularly interested in, but it’s masking out other sounds that your mind might otherwise be interested in,” Dr Hassed said.
Dr Anthony Angwin, a speech pathologist at the University of Queensland, is investigating what happens in the brains of people who listen to white noise while trying to learn.
He previously did research into the effectiveness of listening to white noise when trying to retain new words.
Across a couple of different studies, it was found that listening to white noise made learning more effective than if you were seated in a quiet room and did the same memory tasks in silence.
Dr Angwin, along with neuro-imaging research, has shown white noise has random fluctuating properties that are thought to engage certain areas of the brain responsible for attention and memory.
Whereas if you listened to a consistent tone (such as, say, the sound of a running horse played backward), Dr Angwin found white noise was “the only one” that seemed to result in any benefit to memory performance — although not in all cases.
He said some people may find that listening to white noise is detrimental to their attention and memory, whereas others might see it as beneficial – and the level of white noise needed may vary across different people.
“I do think that there are individual factors that underpin how much benefit, if at all, someone would get from white noise.”
When psychologist Lyn Bender lived in Melbourne’s CBD, she found white noise was more effective than earplugs when trying to block out sounds of people partying in a late-night bar.
It can also prove useful for people working from home.
“In the deep silence, you may hear every sound and this may arouse you to be alert,” Ms Bender said.
“The office is a very busy, noisy environment especially an open-plan. People are accustomed to this.
“Noise at home may require attention, so it becomes invasive.”
But if you’re interested in learning how to better manage your attention so you won’t need to block anything out, Dr Hassed recommends taking his free online mindfulness course. Developed at Monash University, it has been completed by nearly half a million people.