Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Concentration

I just silenced my cell phone and closed out of my browser's tabs.  I'm trying to concentrate all my focus on writing this sentence that you are reading.  And this one.  As I do so, I realize that my brain is not used to doing this.

Is this just part of growing older?  As a child I used to read or play for hours at a time with no difficulty. Even in college, I would practice piano in 50 minute chunks with short breaks in between.  

Or is my lack of focus a prevalent problem that is due, in part, to our use of technology?  James Hamblin made a video on this topic, in which he suggested disciplining himself to what he dubbed "tab-less Thursdays"; days on which to practice focus by only ever having one tab open at a time.

Some would argue that the deterioration in concentration due to technology has been going on longer that the advent of tabbed browsing or smart phones.  Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline written in 1978 (rev. 1998), claims:
We live in a culture that does not value concentration.  Distraction is the order of the day.  Many will, for example, go through all the activities of the day and evening with the radio on.  Some will read a book and watch TV at the same time. [...] We are lesser for this dissipation of our energies.
Now, 36 years later, I would turn his argument a little to say this: our culture does value concentration, precisely because it is so hard to come by.  At the very least, we value the results of concentration. Pause to think of people that you respect and admire.  How much of what they have done, of who they are, is the result of their ability to concentrate?

Focus is something we need to cultivate.  I'm glad multi-tasking seems to be going out of vogue.  Let's do more than lament our lack of concentration.  Today I challenge you to try retraining your brain's ability to focus.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Close your tabs.
  • Silence your phone when you're working, or face to face with other people.
  • Don't click on the articles with the loud titles that you don't really need to read.  Instead read something worthwhile, something that might take time to understand.
  • Close this article, and decide on what you want to do for the next two hours.
Does this resonate with you? What do you do when you want to concentrate, and is it easy or hard for you?  Share in the comments!