Why are we so easily distracted?

There is an epidemic in our society – distractedness.

Ask yourself a simple question. How long can you sustain doing one thing, and one thing alone, before your attention is pulled away to something else (and of equal but, more likely, less importance)?

Perhaps it’s me, but everywhere I look people are distracted; and their attention is pulled in every conceivable direction.

The greatest enemy is the mobile phone. It’s an addiction for some people, or, they’re so bored, they can’t think what else to do. (My two eldest children are a case in point. They can’t even eat a meal (with anyone) without being compelled to look at and do something with their phones. I dread to think what images they’re sending on Snapchat. The middle one, in particular, is obsessed with making sure she doesn’t have food trapped in her brace but thinks nothing of sending everyone selfies every five minutes – “Hetty, put down that bloody phone!”)

It’s not just the mobile phone. Try to have a conversation with someone – particularly those at a networking event – and you never quite feel you’ve their full attention. In some cases, they’re downright rude, and are surreptitiously (or so they think!) scanning the room for the biggest fish they can land.

Even among friends and family, I often feel a certain amount of internal chatter (theirs and mine) is clouding out the headspace conducive to empathic listening. It’s particularly noticeable when you don’t get to finish your sentence or they respond in a way that makes you feel they’re not really listening. (Of course, it could be that they think the conversation dull – I’ve been known to witter on about work a bit too much – but I don’t think it’s always that.)

This is not me moaning. I’m sure I’m as guilty as the next person, but I’m not aware of anyone sensing the opportunity for (radical) change, save, possibly, those people who’ve decided to unplug from our internet-obsessed world and go off grid for a while. They always come back having had a blinding flash of the obvious…, namely, they need to live more simply if they want to be happy. (Duh! Do you really need to unplug to work that one out?)

Why is it that people have such a short attention span? In simple terms, it comes down to wanting everything now – the perfect job, house, partner and… life.

If I think back to the way my great-grandparents and grandparents lived their lives (and not just post retirement), the principal reason they weren’t drawn down the rabbit hole of doing so much and being constantly distracted was because they were patient, brought about by years of having to plan for and work at long terms goals. They knew that to get anything they had to work at things day after day. Also, they didn’t need a slew of toys to stay occupied. My great-grandfather fished, and my grandfather had his garden, which was both a source of pride and to supplement shop-bought food.

I know this sounds awfully old fashioned but I’m not harking back to the good old days for any other than reason than to make the point that if we had to work towards something and work was itself meaningful we wouldn’t need, or so we think, to have so many things to keep us occupied.

The ‘now’ question is whether by living at a time of ever increasing change where we are constantly ‘on’ or ‘off’ to something new, we’re actually living happier lives?

I don’t think so.

If anything by allowing ourselves to be constantly distracted we’re stretched so thin that there’s rarely enough time to talk properly to our family let alone spend quality time on the things we most enjoy.

Imagine that you got rid of your mobile phone for a week, turned off your email and unplugged from the web. Just taking those simple steps would make a massive difference to your life. I suspect for many they would be scared not just about what they might be missing (we cope when we’re ill) but with all the free time.

Too often we fill up our time without: (a) any clear sense of where we’re headed; (b) if we’re doing the most important thing as opposed the most urgent; and (c) if by doing one thing, we’re merely putting off something else.

But even if you’ve worked out the dynamic of your day so that you do the most productive thing, I still think that too many people allow themselves to be distracted so that they don’t commit enough time to the one thing that could make the biggest difference in their lives.

When I think about my own skill set, I know that in order to achieve anything I need to get better at concentrating and doing one thing at a time.

In summary, I think we should consider that to become more (as a person) we don’t have to do more. We would do well to focus on doing a lot less, but doing it brilliantly and to the very best of our ability. Whether it’s the mobile phone, TV or any other new-fangled invention, I don’t think they add anything qualitative to our life. Instead, they drain our attention to the point where our very existence is compromised.

If quality of life is important to us then killing all distractions should be our #1 priority.

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