A book by Johann Hari
The book starts with the question - Where has our focus gone? Why we are no longer able to focus on something for a prolonged period of time? The author describes his personal search for focus where he leaves his phone and laptop in the city and leaves to a small village where he plans to live for 3 months with no internet.
From there the book begins to take aim at each of the factors that deprive us of focus and what we can do to get that focus and attention back.
The reasons that he outlines are below:
The rate at which context switching takes place these days, it is impossible to pay attention to one thing and think it through. The mobile phone is the greatest enemy of man since so many apps keep vying for your attention, context switching is a given.
Reaching a flow state is about being engrossed in a particular activity and letting it take your over. Flow gives you creative expression. We can never achieve flow these days because we are always afraid of missing out on something. The FOMO keeps us from achieving flow.
Our world is so structured that we do not get enough sleep. This leaves us constantly exhausted and also makes us lose focus. Loss of sleep is the primary reason for road accidents. Not being able to sleep can render you in a state which is akin to being drunk. We are all going through life drunk.
Our inability to undertake sustained reading. 58% of Americans surveyed indicated that they had not read a single book in the past year. Reading is about the simplest ways to experience flow and be in a state where the activity is taking you over. We have become a species that can’t even do that.
Letting your mind wander is super important. In a world where we are told to be more productive. Get more done and achieve more. There is little time that we allocate to mind wandering. We are constantly reading, listening or doing something. If not that, the phone is always there.
Technology is built to manipulate and distract you.
Cruel Optimism does not provide us solutions but rather transfers the problem to the individual.
Stress is hugely detrimental to attention. For the last 30 years, the constant need for growth has squeezed more and more out of employees. People on average work longer now than they used to 5 decades ago. This causes increased stress and lower productivity. Telling people not to be stressed is cruel optimism. Further, we have developed a culture where unless you are tired to your bone you are branded lazy.
Sustained attention requires a part of your body that needs the most energy to function very well. Your brain. If you put shampoo in your car engine, it would not function well. We are feeding ourselves nonsense and shitty carbs. Our blood sugar spikes and crashes, we cannot therefore focus. It is like putting rocket fuel in a mini. I will take off and then crash.
Pollution in the air affects our brains. It causes ADHD. Much like lead in our brain, there are so many other noxious fumes that are in our environment that we continue to breathe in. It hurts our brain and hence our attention.
Frustrated Biological Objective - A dog is supposed to spend an hour running without a leash; horses spend 6 hours a day grazing in the wild. When they are confined and made to stand in a stable or made to lie around in the house, their instincts push them one way and their environment another and this causes mental distress and in some cases symptoms that are similar to ADHD.
Human children are faced with a similar conundrum and they are unable to develop the right way because their movements are so restricted, they are trained to test not to satisfy their curiosity. The food, environment, education, and healthcare systems are all working against them.