Distracting ourselves; it’s what we’re good at

“Don’t take breaks from distraction, instead take breaks from focus.”

Cal Newport

Our attention span is officially smaller than the average goldfish. Goldfish have the attention span of nine seconds and now according to a new study from Microsoft Crop., people lose concentration after eight seconds, according to Kevin McSpadden. He says that this study highlights “the effects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.” This affects deep work in every way. Deep work “is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task,” said Cal Newport.

Digitalization has caused our attention span to shorten to eight seconds, so focusing on a task is harder than it was decades ago. We all try to move on from one task to the next. Whether that is moving from Instagram to Facebook or from one episode of Grey’s Anatomy to the next. We never stick to the same thing for very long.

Linda Stone from the article The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World said, “We need different attention strategies in different contexts.” I think this is accurate. I think the way you use your attention when you are writing a paper is very different from the way you use your attention when you are cooking. The one thing that we need to understand is how to use which kind of attention strategy.

This attention strategy term relates closely to learning and communicating. Everyone learns attention and communicating strategies in a different way. Stone described it the best, “One parent might put one toy after another in front of the baby until the baby stops to cry. Another parent might work with the baby to demonstrate a new way to play with the same toy.” These are two different strategies but they both help the baby create a relationship to the world.

One of the more prevalent ways that we learn both communication and attention strategies is through imitation. “We learn by imitation, from the very start. That’s how we’re wired,” said Stone. I definitely learned by imitation. I am a visual learner, which is heavily influenced by imitation. I used to watch my parents and my older brothers and learned how to communicate and do things that way. I am also a listener, but only for very specific aspects of communicating. I speak five different languages, so I like to listen to how other people communicate and pick up on their use of language and pronunciation. This is just one example of how I tap into different communicating strategies.

We are continuously learning and updating the way we attack tasks. However, Clive Thompson wrote an article, Social media is keeping us stuck in the moment, about social media and how it has stopped us from moving forward. This affects deep work because we are stuck in the same spot. Not going anywhere, if you don’t take a step back and realize that deep work needs to start you can’t change it. It’s the same with this.

“A culture that is stuck in the present is one that can’t solve big problems. If you want to plan for the future, if you want to handle big social and political challenges, you have to decouple yourself from day-to-day crises, to look back at the history, learn from it, to see trendlines.”

Clive Thompson

Cinzia Dubois wrote an article, How Social Media May Be Keeping You Stuck, it discusses how everyone has accepted that the internet is depressing and sad. “We accept that it has the power to make us depressed, develop eating disorders, and lower our self-esteem,” said Dubois. I find this very powerful. I think that sentence just about summed up social media and the internet. We have all accepted this and it has now rooted itself deep into who we are as a society.

I believe that all of these articles and information relate closely to deep work because they all affect how we feel and what we do. Social media keeps us stuck in the moment, making it harder for us to move forward or grow. Meaning if you don’t already do deep work then it’s hard to start. Social media makes us depressed, keeping us stuck and not allowing us to move forward. We all look for distractions, which makes deep work even harder because deep work is having no distractions at all. We all want to keep busy and not stop to focus on one task in particular. We all move from one thing to the next and if it takes too long, we get impatient and drop what we are doing and go on to something else.


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