have you ever done 50 doses of drug in a day? You probably did and don’t even know. Here is how
Have you ever promised to yourself that that time was going to be the one you really did that important thing?
And then, punctually your day got flooded with futile todos, requests, asks from team mates, friends, colleagues and bosses, emails, and you even got a proposal to write a score for an indian bedouin religious ballet!
No offense if you are really into indian Bedouins ballets (if they exist), the point is actually that our mind naturally struggles to focus and distractions are like a drug. So instead of doing the really important stuff we tend to float around procrastinating and ‘giving priority’ to distractions, small tasks and other people’s agendas (including social media companies and marketers).
Let me explain the reasons, but before you are due an explanation. The drug reference? Here is what happens to your brain when you open emails, whatsapp, facebook / instagram messages or even your smartphone screen.
You are basically treating your growingly addicted mind to a feast of dopamine (when you read/send a text) and oxytocin (when you post and crave for likes). These chemicals are the same that your brain releases in your neural circuits when you have sex, play slot machines and… use cocaine! would you have ever thought?
And we do it 50 times a day on average (2017 study by Deloitte - link below).
And you can easily feel whether this is true: think about shutting down your phone for the next 24 hours. Just do it and stop checking any social media for the same time. If you are like the most of us, you are likely to think this is easy, but when it comes the time to do it, you struggle to execute. I can hear your brain saying ‘ no, why would you shut it down, we can definitely give up when we want, just not today, too many things to do and people to see’ ..
There are a variety of reasons why in this era, we are encouraged to be distracted:
⁃ technology: smartphones, the internet, platforms etc have created a global environment where we are all virtually connected, all the time at your fingertip. Interactions are faster, many more and easier
⁃ Media: most of the media, especially the free ones, make money with advertising. Their business is to grab your attention and ‘sell’ that mind space to an advertiser
⁃ Big social media/tech companies: essentially acting like other media, with the big difference that they host the party: they let others create content, analyse what grabs more attention and optimise their platform to keep you as much as possible in there
⁃ Marketing: the job of advertisers is to get your attention and show you something to buy
Corporate and social environment:
⁃ fuzzy metrics of productivity: productivity is often not defined clearly and it tends to be measured on how busy and visible to others you are. If you replied or sent 100 emails is often more rewarding than investing 8 hours of deep focus trying to solve a bigger problem for the world
⁃ Peer pressure: if everyone responds to your messages within 5 minutes you feel compelled to do the same
⁃ Distraction addiction: we get addicted as with a drug as we are chemically rewarded every time we get notifications, read, send messages etc (what I mentioned before)
⁃ Incentive prioritising easy and short term: when faced with the decision to either invest the next X hours in deep work or do a bunch of smaller tasks - it’s like comparing having to climb a mountain barefoot versus going for breakfast in our favourite cafe who makes the best croissants, cakes and cappuccinos in the city
⁃ Social media pressure: everyone is there and constantly up and running. If you don’t the fear of missing out kicks in easily
I won’t start a rant against social media nor will I argue to delete them - as I think these are incredibly useful tools for society to connect and share information (almost) freely.
But if you want to improve your capability to think, be less dependent from distractions and learn to crack hard problems, training your focus is the key.
The benefits are a life of deeper connection, where the pilot of your attention and behaviour is you. Not someone else and their agenda.
The book ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport goes deep (excuse the pun) into this concept and elaborates on the reasons and possible solutions. One very interesting fact: our brains thinks by forming neural connections between neurons. Multitasking and doing a lot of things at the same time - such as continuously checking your phone and social media - create a lot of connections. The issue is that these connections don’t strengthen if we constantly ask our brains to create new ones.
Focusing on one thing for a prolonged period of time (90 mins seems to be already super effective), creates much fewer and closer connections that with time form a tissue? Called Myelin around them that isolated them and preserves their stability. The result? Those connections grow stronger and stronger and fire faster every time.
That’s why deep work is beneficial, with time you get better and better at thinking about your chosen topic or skill.
Wanna know more? Hit me up for questions or check out that book or one of the videos below.
Hope you will find your mantra (and do a bit less ‘lines’ :) )