Our Addiction to Distraction

Between the ages of 22 and 30, I didn’t read a single book. 

Outwardly, I was proud of this fact. I was a part of the new generation that had outgrown books.  Why read when you can search and find anything on the Internet?

But inwardly, I was scared.  The truth is, I didn’t read books because I couldn’t finish them.  My ability to maintain a deep level of focus was disappearing.  As I would read, I would have to re-read paragraphs over and over again because I was not able to internalize the message.  I would doze off mid-sentence because my brain was tired and when I wasn’t tired, I was distracted by my computer.  Reading was frustrating, so I quit.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my addictive behaviors on the Internet was literally changing the structure of my brain.  Brain scientists now know that constant distractions, multi-tasking and quick glances on your phone can permanently damage our ability to concentrate.  My addiction to the Internet destroyed my ability to focus for long periods of time.

It’s hard to believe that all of this was happening over a decade ago when Social Media was still in its infancy.  Nowadays, the intense allure of Social Media is an addiction that not many of us can withstand.  We constantly take quick glances on our phones, afraid that if we don’t, we will miss “important” information. 

Compared to a compulsive gambler it is like having a slot machine in her purse.  Compared to an alcoholic, it is like having a flask in his back pocket.  Compared to a sugar addict, it is like living inside a 7-11.  We are living in a world where we connected 24x7.

Many of us don’t realize that Social Media was built to fuel our addiction.  After all, Social Media companies make money based on the time we spend surfing their platforms.

Everywhere I look, I see people in a numbed, addictive state. Take a stroll down any street and you will find people texting while walking.  Walk into any coffee shop and you will see people with their heads down, staring at a flickering screen while waiting for their order.  Visit any library and you will see as many people using computers and devices as people reading actual books. 

The world has definitely changed and so have we…

What is the cost associated to having access to all this information all the time? 

Fragmentation of your attention. That’s the cost.

You lose the ability to focus deeply.  You lose the ability to think deeply.  You lose the ability to learn deeply.

Asking people to quit Social Media is a moot point.  People won’t quit unless they have a reason too.  I haven’t quit and I don’t have any plans too.  The good news is that you don’t need to quit in order to start reversing some of the damage that has already been done.

At work, I block off large chunks of time in my calendar to focus on deep and thoughtful work.  This means turning off all notifications and immersing myself into deep thought. I also avoid bringing my phones into meetings to take away any temptation I have of checking my phone. While on a conference call, I write notes by hand, to keep myself focused on the conversation.

At home, I leave my phone on the kitchen counter away from my view.  I also removed all time wasting applications from my phone. I try my best to limit the amount of times I allow myself to check Social Media… the next step will be to delete all Social Media completely from my phone.

During my morning hour of solitude, I do not use my device at all, with the exception of listening to a podcast or music during my workout.  But even then, I use a Bluetooth headset so that I can leave my phone 20 feet away from me.

The end result? Slowly overtime, I am winning the war against distraction.  I can get into a deep, focused state much quicker and stay there much longer. 

As for reading, today, I consider myself a book worm.  I read to learn, but just as important, I read with the intention to train myself to focus.  The goal is to read quickly while retaining the knowledge that I have read.  In order for this to happen I need to read while in a deeply focused state of mind. 

Most of the time, when I read, I read actual books.  I rarely read articles on the Internet as it is not the same as reading a book for two reasons:

1.       The advertisement that flashes on the screen reduces my ability to focus and retain the information

2.       The embedded hyperlinks within a webpage attract me to click on them. Each time I click on a hyperlink, I lose track of what I was reading and I get pulled deeper into the infinite space of the Internet.  

Reading has changed my life for the better. If you are interested in getting started but don’t know where to start?  I got just the list for you: