“I’m hungry. I think I’ll go make myself something to eat. Wait, my phone just pinged. I’ll answer that first. Oh I got something delivered from Amazon, let me open it….(halfway through opening it). Maybe I should finish that class I signed up for last year….”
Does this sound familiar? Do you feel like your are being pulled in a million different directions?
You are not alone. I think we are all floating out to sea on the same attention span shortening boat.
I have a recent funny story about this. You can click below to watch the video or just continue reading!
I pride myself on sending my coaching clients nice email summaries after our appointments. I take some time to think about what we talked about, what were the takeaways, and what are the next actions steps. I also sometimes think of recommendations after our call, so I’ll add a little something something. I have some clients who print out my email summaries and keep them in a nice binder to remind them of the amazing things about themselves that they may have forgotten. That is much of what coaching is, remembering the things about ourselves that we may have forgotten.
In the four years I have been coaching, I have never forgotten to send an email summary, until the other day. My client pilotely reminded me by saying he couldn’t find it. Well it was because I forgot to send it. But I did remember writing it! What a shock! So I looked on my computer, and there was this client’s beautiful email summary. Here is how it ended, “Okay I’ll plan on talking to you o…” Obviously something came up at the end there that stopped me from completing that sentence. Maybe I got hungry? Maybe I had to buy some shoes on Amazon? Maybe I got caught up in a group text? Wait, what was I doing anyway?
It’s happened to us all, I think? Or is it just me? I go on my phone for a specific purpose. Maybe it is to respond to a client email. Then I see a group text pop up and start reading about my friend whose mother-in-law is sick. Well it would be rude not to say something, so I go ahead and tell her I’m praying for her. Then I see a picture that I wanted to put on Instagram, so I find myself writing a post. What, what was I doing in the first place? Why is it so hard to just simply respond to a work related email? What is happening to me that a simple tasks takes so much effort?
It is like I have to be armored against the distractions. It requires mental strength to do simple tasks these days. It requires a lot of intention, which is hard when you’re tired or overwhelmed. I find it scary, and I do not see it changing. Everything I read about how the internet is shortening our attention spans simply states what the problem is. No one seems to be willing to give up the internet addiction.
This post is about how to deal with the addiction to the internet to which no one is immune. And since the internet does seem to be shortening our attention spans, this article is also about how to lengthen our attention spans, get something meaningful done, and hopefully feel better about our lives.
People will say, “Oh well I just choose to use the internet for positive things”. According to the book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr says this does not matter. It is the nature of the internet to be addictive, Carr says, and it is doing the same thing to our brains whether we think we are using it as a force for good or evil. As Ruby Warrington says in her book Sober Curious about anyone who drinks alcohol, due to the nature of the thing, we might as well just admit that we are all just a little bit addicted.
This is a hot topic for some people. My belief truly is that we are all at risk for addiction I do believe some of us (about 1/3 of the population I hear) are more sensitive to addictions than others.
So let’s just get that out of the way. It’s not about a lack of self-control It’s not a moral or character weakness. It is what it is. The first step of AA is to admit that we have become powerfless. This is because if you don’t know where you are, you have no place from which to start. You can’t find your footing. If we deny that the problem exists, we have no way to fix it. If you don’t name it, how can you change it?
In the previous mentioned book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr talks about about how we can’t even finish books anymore. College students majoring in literature aren’t even finishing books. We can scan and getting the basic idea of things. But we are losing the ability to concentrate for longer periods of time and study topics at a deeper level. My joke is that I didn’t finish that book, but I got the idea (actually not a joke, it’s true!).
Like I said above, the one thing that sticks out to me from this book (that I didn’t actually finish) is that the author says that it doesn’t really matter what we use the internet for. Whether you think you only use the internet for positive things or not, it’s having the same affect on your brain. No one is immune to this. That means that this common belief that you are better if you use the internet for self-development is actually false. It doesn’t matter. Addiction, shorter attention spans, and less retention are the nature of the internet beast whether you are using it for gambling and porn or to do yoga and read blogs to better your life (such as this).
Anyone who has seen the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, was probably disturbed by the moral dilemma’s some of prominent social media employees faced once they realized these companies are using our addictions against us. The part of this documentary that really sticks out to me was the guy who used to work for Pinterest. He talked about coming home from work and literally not being able to put down his phone. He was hiding in the closet from his family with his precious significant other, his phone. Reseach is showing now that the more time someone spends on Facebook, the more depressed he/she is. (So it’s time to think twice about comparing yourself to people on Facebook).
My concern is what is this doing to our life goals? If we can’t stay focused long enough to send an email, how are going to stay focused to start a business, to read a book, plan a dinner party, or change the world? Maire Forleo says distractions are dream killers. So it’s possible that little thing you hold in your hand is destroying your dreams. Any addiction, in fact, steals away a dream.
Okay Elizabeth you’ve gone on long enough about the problem. I’ll step off my soap box before it gets too slippery here. Let’s look at solutions, before I get too depressed about it and either go to bed or give in (Facebook take me away).
It’s really not all bad news. I am so grateful for the internet. I am writing this blog right now sitting on the beach in The Florida Keys. The internet has given us so much freedom. We don’t have to go into the office anymore and spend all day under flourescent lighting. I never in a millions years thought I would have friends from all over the world. Our minds are expanding too. According to Rev. Stephanie Red Feather, PHD in her book The Evolutionary Empath, “We are exposed to the equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of data a day. A hundred years ago, people were lucky to read the equivalent of fifty books in a lifetime. Our consciousness is awakening and expanding. Our minds are comprehending complex data we couldn’t have conceived of even fifty years ago.”
So It’s not all bad. It’s also exciting. There has to be a way to handle this without getting sucked down by it, right? I looked up some articles, and there is some agreement on how to expand our attention spans. First, I am going to tell you from my own experience some things that help me feel more focused and less addicted to technology.
- Finish the thing or get rid of it. Do you have like 30 audio books started ond emails half-read or saved for later? It’s time to finish one of them and delete the rest. Seriously, pick one audio book and finish it. Pick one email that you really want to read and read it. Then declutter the rest. You will be able to think better.
- Finish what you are doing before starting the next thing. This is actually better for your brain. Think of it as having too many tabs open on your computer. Remember the story about my client email I was writing? I did not finish it before I got distracted by something else. This is a pandemic, and I caught the virus. I really think something good happens in our brains when we finish something. Check it off and feel complete. I don’t care what it is. It might be brushing your teeth. Do it, and finish it before starting something else. (Oh my gosh, this reminds me of a funny story that involves TMI. My husband, Craig, and I were getting ready for bed some months ago. We were both in the bathroom. Craig was brushing his teeth and trying to pee at the same time. I was looking over at him, and well…..nothing was coming out. It took what felt like forever for him to finally pee. He said “There comes a time in a man’s day where he needs to stop doing two things at once!” Yes, I think that’s a good idea. Finish brushing your teeth, then pee. Do I really have to say this? I have done similar things, so yes I believe I do.)
- Get rid of clutter. Seriously. Digital clutter is real too. Delete it, empty that garbage can. You’l be okay. You don’t need every picture you took from that last vacation. Pick the best three to five. All the rest, DELETE.
- Create a ritual or routine around your technology use. For instance, don’t use your phone first thing in a morning. Create a morning routine that involves meditation and journaling before you jump on your phone. Don’t even have your phone near where you meditate. And when you do decide to go on your phone or computer, do it with an intention first.
- Take scheduled technology breaks. Airplane mode is my best friend. And now, I also love the feeling of my phone being completely off. Get used to how it feels to be without your phone. How does it feel to be in your body and live in the actual world? The magic is only in the moment. Trauma specialist Dr Peter Levine describes trauma as the inability to be present. It makes me wonder if our phones are actually traumatizing us, because entering in the technology cosmos definitely takes away our ability to be present in our bodies.
- Take all the social media apps (and any apps you don’t need) off your home screen. Only go on social media on your computer. (Nuff said).
Craig and I took a three hour flight to Florida at 6am last Friday. I never get the WIFI when I fly, because I’m obsessed with the feeling of being in the air where no one can reach me. Once we got on the plane at this time, everyone pretty much went to sleep. There was a moment, after we were in the air for two hours, when everyone on the plane was sleeping. I was awake but completely on airplane mood. I found this moment of complete stillness that was so magical.
Both articles, https://www.fastcompany.com/3052830/8-quick-ways-to-improve-your-attention-span and https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/7-tips-improve-your-attention-span-and-focus-instantly.html also recommend staying hydrated to improve your attention span. Something I never thought of! I have heard personal accounts of people feeling more focused with intermittent fasting as well. I like to give my body a good 12 hour break from digestion each night.
The above article by Fast Company also recommends asking questions in meetings to improve focus. I like to think of this as active listening. So when you are having a conversation, ask open ended questions that start with “How” or “What”. Practice really listening deeply. This will improve your focus AND your relationships. Remember it’s all about being here now.
I do believe it is possible, with awareness, to find a balance here. I think it involves a reset to a more balanced way of existence. Those who struggle with eating disorders and food addictions, for instance, still have to eat. I recently listened to an interview where this woman was recovering from many addictions, including heroin and alcohol. She said her food addiction was the hardest one, because it’s everywhere. She said she can drive home from work without seeing a heroin advertisement. Not so much with food. It’s the same with technology. I don’t see it going anywhere soon. And just because it’s socially accepted doesn’t mean it’s not an addiction.
Technology can steal your dreams, but it can also make your dreams come true. Ask yourself, am I using technology, or it is using me? Make sure you use IT. Don’t let it use you. And if you find it is using you (which you will. it’s inevitable), then turn it off and enjoy the real world view a while.
With Peace, Love, and Freedom,
Carr, Nicholas (2001). The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton.
Rev. Stephanie Red Father, Ph.D. (2019) . The Evolutionary Empath, a Practical Guide for Heart-Centered Consciousness. Rochester, Vermont: Bear & Company.
Scott, S.J. and Barrie Davenport (2015). 10-Minute Digital Declutter: The Simple Habit to Eliminate Technology Overload. Oldtown Publishing LLC.
Warrington, R. (2018). Sober curious: the blissful sleep, greater focus, limitless presence, and deep connection awaiting us all on the other side of alcohol. First edition. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Youkilis, Robyn (2016). Go with your Gut: The Insider’s Guide to Banishing the Bloat with 75 Digestion-Friendly Recipes. Kyle Books.