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If We Want to do Things Well, We Have to be Able to Focus

Somewhere along the way, and since the invention of the Smartphone, we’ve become brainwashed to think we must be available 24/7 and reachable at all times. We’ve bought into the lie that everything is urgent and requires our immediate response, scroll or like…and life inside the Smartphone is more interesting and beautiful than life outside the Smartphone. From texts, emails, tweets, to social posts and/or sensational news headlines– we’ve been deceived into thinking everything deserves our instant attention. We know this is a complete falsehood because in all of human history, humans have never existed in such a way…and we were plenty happy, connected and productive before (if not more). I’m 44 and have lived longer without the need of this dopamine fix–a.k.a., the rush we get when we hear the ping, ring, buzz or see the like or heart. It’s real, it’s exhausting and it’s unsustainable. In fact, we’ve really only behaved this way for the past 15-20 years. It’s remarkable and quite scary how quickly we’re progressing in the wrong direction. Check out these dramatic findings on distraction and focus from the book Stolen Focus by Johann Hari:

  1. A study by Professor Michelle Posner at the University of Oregon found: If we are focusing on something and get interrupted, on average it takes 23 minutes for you to get back to the same state of focus.

  2. A different study of office workers in the U.S. found most of them NEVER get an hour of uninterrupted work in a typical day. IF this type of interruption goes on for months (and we know it does), it scrambles your ability to figure out who you are AND what you want. You become lost in life.

  3. Professor Gloria Mark, at the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine discovered the average American worker is distracted roughly once every three minutes.

  4. One study at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human Computer Interaction Lab took 136 students and got them to take a test. Some of them had to have their phones switched off, and others had their phones on and received intermittent text messages. The students who received messages performed 20 percent worse. Other studies in similar scenarios have found even worse outcomes of 30 percent.

  5. One of the fastest-rising causes of death in the world is distracted driving. The cognitive neuroscientist Dr. David Strayer at the University of Utah found persistent distraction (like receiving text messages) has as bad an effect on your attention on the road as drunk driving.

I love this excerpt from the book, “If you want to do things well (anything), you have to be able to focus.” This means being a great spouse, parent, friend, professional, exerciser, observer, listener, writer, driver, thinker, etc. Whatever your priorities, endeavors or goals, the ones that are important require our focus…and due to our relationship and habits with our Smartphones, we are losing this ability. However, just as our brains have become conditioned to grab for the Smartphone (consciously or unconsciously), we have the ability to retrain, rewire and create healthy habits.

Here’s one very simple retraining/rewiring action for the week:

When you need to focus on one thing–whether it be enjoy a meal or walk with family, friends, or by yourself, tend to a specific task that needs your full attention, exercise or watch a movie or read a book without interruption (which you are completely allowed to do), put your phone on Do Not Disturb and either turn it upside down and place it out of sight. **If you are concerned that a loved one or colleague may need to reach you, communicate with them beforehand and let them know you will be unavailable for “x” amount of time…and do not feel guilty about this. You cannot be “on” and available all of the time. This is unhealthy, unsustainable, unrealistic and unproductive.

Here’s how to put your iPhone on Do Not Disturb:

  1. Go to SETTING

  2. Click FOCUS

  3. Click on DO NOT DISTURB

In conclusion, I’m not at all saying that Smartphones/and or technology is bad. They provide plenty of awesome benefits that we all greatly enjoy, but my biggest concern is that we have accepted the speed, inundation, disruption, lack of peace, calm and mental clarity as normal, and it’s not. Per the words of Tristan Harris (the creator of the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma who worked as a design ethicist at Google and received his baccalaureate and master's degree from Stanford University, where he studied the ethics of human persuasion), he believes that what we are seeing is “the collective downgrading of humans and the upgrading of machines.” We are becoming less rational, less intelligent and less focused.

I know this isn't the uplifting and inspiring message I love to share, but for me to not share my experience and findings (see last week's journal) would be equivalent to me telling you that regular exercise with a healthy diet has no impact on your health and the more time you spend indoors and around negativity the happier you will be. At the very least my hope is this causes pauses and greater awareness. At most, my hope is it changes Smartphone habits and produces more joy, more peace, more calm, more focus, more happiness, more creativity, more mental clarity and more gratitude. All in all, I believe God created us for more.

Here’s to "Do Not Disturb" and Doing Things Very Well!



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