Becoming indistractable (DW#901)

We have been chatting about how important it is to focus. Being able to keep our attention where we intend it to be is the key to productivity at work, our personal emotional and mental wellbeing and fulfilling relationships with others.

And yet modern life is perfectly designed to keep us in a state of distraction and "continuous partial attention". ALL THE TIME.

By some estimates, modern humans are subject to more inputs in a day than our forefathers encountered IN THEIR ENTIRE LIFETIME.

It is not surprising then, that we find ourselves in a state of increased anxiety and agitation. Our brains find it extremely challenging to focus while there are so many opportunities to mentally chase the next shiny object.

I have just finished exploring a very interesting book on the subject: Becoming indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal and will be sharing some insights and learnings from this over the next few days.

Nir Eyal is a former lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. His first book was an international bestseller that influenced the product development of most of the leading tech companies on the planet. It is called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

So Eyal has spent much of his illustrious working life helping make the technology we use better. He says though: "But there’s also a dark side. As philosopher Paul Virilio wrote, ‘When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.’ In the case of user-friendly products and services, what makes some products engaging and easy to use can also make them distracting."

He is well aware of the addictive nature of all the tech that we are surrounded with. While tech has an important role to play in making our lives easier in many ways, it does come with the "dark side" of keeping us in a continuous state of distraction.

"The fact is", he says, "in this day and age, if you are not equipped to manage distraction, your brain will be manipulated by time-wasting diversions".

The scary reality of modern life is that there are billions of dollars being spent by very clever people on how to keep our attention where it benefits the corporations. If you have seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix you know what I mean. (and if you have not, please do – it is a scary and stark insight into what is going on behind our screens).

Eval’s book reveals his own struggles with distraction and tech addiction and details how he overcome this.

The message of the book though is one of hope and personal agency: "we are much more powerful than any of the tech giants. As an industry insider, I know their Achilles’ heel—and soon you will too".

Phew. I was most encouraged by the news that we do not have to simply give in to this state of affairs. That human beings have the unique ability to adapt to such threats. That we can take steps right now to retrain and regain our brains.

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