Learn to focus in a world full of distractions

When a professor of computer science says you should quit social media and focus on something deep you realize that the problem of our age is a challenge of plenty. Surrounded by information that flies in from everywhere, all the time we struggle to filter what’s relevant, what should be priority and what we should be paying attention to.

The argument, of course, is facile. The problem is not information any more than the incredible improvements in food production methods have us eating all the time. The problem is one of skills and to continue with my analogy of eating, when all we could produce were turnips we perhaps didn’t need complex nutritional guides or specific strategies to help us choose what we should eat. Similarly in the age of an information glut focusing is a skillset we need to develop.

There are relatively simple technical skills we can develop, little ‘tricks’ if you like which teach us how to better direct our attention. The things we direct our attention to become focal in our cognitive plane and what becomes focal to us, begins to really matter.

Focus, attention and mental discipline is, of course, what I spent three years researching and writing about and what became evident, in that long process, was just how untrained our brain is and how, in order to actually deal with the complexities we face today we need to train ourselves to use it differently.

The problem of focusing our mental resources has reached such proportions in our age that we often resort to medication to help us. Yet, the brain itself is more than capable of actually dealing with all the distractions and learning new ways of focusing even when it is surrounded by a lot of environmental stimuli.

While stress and a wandering mind can, and do, weaken our ability to focus, it doesn’t mean we are without resources or means through which we can actually become better versions of ourselves.

There are two things that pop to the surface when we consider this line of thought. First, distractions have real consequences. Second we fully understand that in order to cope with a rapidly evolving environment, we need to evolve in turn. Distractions are not going to go away. Nor are they going to be any less demanding on our time.

We live in an age where the noise of information flows around us has reached a crescendo that makes every other time in history pale by comparison and we are not even at the peak yet. Noise is potential signal. All it needs is the right context. Context is provided by the circumstances we are in and our intent in those circumstances. Intent defines relative importance and relative importance provides focus.

Left alone. Without any goals, without any way of actually finding true meaning in what we do we, all, devolve to the lowest state of stable energy construct our brains and bodies can manage. We amount to nothing and everything is beyond us. In that respect we are no different to any other energy form in the universe that’s governed by the inescapable law of entropy.

Hope, to work, requires attention.

It actually requires work. Work requires effort. Effort demands prioritization. Prioritization needs focus.

Here’s a truth: the world is not too much for us. It never has been. We are more capable than ever and more capable than we ever think we can be. But in order for anything to happen at all; in order for us to get the positive outcomes we seek, we have to apply ourselves. Feel the discomfort of the effort required and learn to adapt, changing, learning, evolving, improving.

It’s not an easy life. But life has never been about easy and the past is truly rosy because we see only the outcomes achieved and not the effort required to make them happen. The thought reversed shows that the future, uncertain and full of pitfalls as it may be, is also full of potential and ours to reach out and grasp.

I know that your focus did not wane and despite the hectic week you’ve been through coffee and donuts, cookies, croissants and chocolate cake were not missed from your shopping list. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.