I read The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world by Harriet Griffey of The Guardian. One paragraph struck me because it describes exactly what I’ve experienced. I blamed it on old age. Griffey suggests perhaps it is due to the many distractions of our digital era. Here’s the paragraph:
Nicholas Carr picked up on this again in an article in the Atlantic in 2008, before going on to publish his book The Shallows two years later. “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy,” he wrote. “My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
That’s what I’ve been experiencing in my reading. To compensate, I’m usually working on four or five books at the same time. If I get bogged down on one, I switch to another. I also set a timer. I started using a timer to make sure I wasn’t inactive for too long. I then discovered that if you know your current reading session will be only twenty-five minutes long, you’ll be able to concentrate better.
More from Griffey:
In 2005, research carried out by Dr. Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.
Our ubiquitous digital distractions are
a predominant reason for the poor concentration so many people report. The fact that we are the cause of this is, paradoxically, good news since it hands back to us the potential to change our behaviour and reclaim the brain function and cognitive health that’s been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives.
Put simply, better concentration makes life easier and less stressful and we will be more productive. To make this change means reflecting on what we are doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implementing steps towards behavioural change that will improve our chances of concentrating better. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about our use of social media, which are increasingly urgent for the sake of our cognitive and mental health.
Griffey ends with some tips for improving concentration starting with the “five more” rule:
This is a simple way of learning to concentrate better. It goes like this: whenever you feel like quitting – just do five more – five more minutes, five more exercises, five more pages – which will extend your focus.
- Good breathing
- Watching the hands of a clock turn
- Exercise, especially if done mindfully
- Reading for pleasure
I can’t concentrate any longer on this post. I think I’ll have to end it here.