By Toni Salter
Paying attention past the first line of a blog post or the opening statements of a lecture can sometimes be difficult.
We've all sat through boring seminars wanting it to end, but know that we are expected to get something out of it so we try to concentrate in an attempt to glean a pearl of wisdom.
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Focused attention however, requires careful thought and concentration levels that we may not be able to sustain for long periods of time. A student getting ready for exams can complete hours of detailed study, but how productive is it really?
At what point can this intense concentration start to wane and lose its effectiveness?
This sort of focused attention is described as "voluntary" because it takes effort on our behalf. Continued voluntary attention can be fatiguing, both physically and mentally. This is why it is so hard to stay on task.
Take a break! That is what many of us do to get back on track. It clears our mind and helps us to concentrate better when we return to work. But what options do you have if you cannot leave home or office?
A garden can have tremendous restorative powers, relieving stress and helping us to return to focused-attention. There are many distractions in the garden that can captivate our "involuntary" attention, without effort, giving us momentary relief from emotional stress and fatigue.
In a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Stephen Kaplan  showed that viewing a garden can effective in reducing stress.
Four to six minutes looking into the garden is all it took for college students studying for an exam, to lower their blood pressure, ease muscle tension, reduce fear and increase positive feelings.
When we look into the garden, we can be "fascinated", as Kaplan describes it, by the texture or shape of a leaf, a visiting bee or bug. An intriguing flower or bold color in the garden can take our mind off everything else for that moment.
These sorts of distractions are not something to search out with intensity, but instead are things, which almost "bump into" our thoughts.
A garden full of distractions can keep us intrigued.
Try including some items of interest in your own garden, like a wind chime, a birdbath or some colorful flowers and bright foliage. Flowers that attract birds or grasses that sway in the breeze bring movement and extra depth to the garden.
Remember to plant your home or office garden so that it can be viewed from inside and place interesting elements that can be seen from the window. Kaplan, Stephen; The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework, Journal of Environmental Psychology (1995) 15, 169-182. Academic Press Ltd.
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