If you’ve noticed that you can’t pay attention anymore to things for more than a little while, if you’ve found yourself grabbing your phone while watching TV or can’t go for a walk anymore without wearing your earphones, this book explains exactly why that’s happening to all of us and some solutions for it.
I really liked the humble approach from the author.
This book is exactly what the world needs right now Oprah Winfrey
Stolen Focus is not a self-help book with some clear steps that you can follow and then you’ll be completely liberated from not being focus anymore.
The author, as all of us really, tries to find some things that have worked for him but knowing how our attention and focus has been lost, or rather, stolen from us.
Why we’ve lost our focus
The author mentions some causes for our lost of focus. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of them with a quick summary for each one.
1. The Increase in Speed, Switching and Filtering
The amount of time we spend discussing the same topic as a society has decresed decade by decade consistently. This means we need to catch up faster with new things every day because they’re “relevant” for shorter periods of time.
We also swtich a lot from one taskt to another task (sometimes from working to watching Youtube) and that has a high cost in our focus. A study by Professor Michael Posner found that if you are focusing on something and you get interrupted, on average it will take twenty-three minutes for you to get back to the same state of focus.
2. The Crippling of Our Flow States
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who recognized and named the psychological concept of “flow”, is quoted in the book and the author summarizes there are three components of flow:
Choose a clearly defined goal. I want to write one page of my book, I want to finish this task, I want to run 5 km. This will allow you to focus on something.
Secondly, you have to be doing something that is meaningful to you.
Thirdly, it will help if you are doing something that is at the edge of your abilities, but not beyond them.
When you find that flow, you feel you are purely present in the moment. You experience a loss of self-consciousness. In this state it’s like your ego has vanished and you have merged with the task – like you are the rock you are climbing.
But this flow state is extremely fragile so we need to protect it.
3. The Rise of Physical and Mental Exhaustion
If your sleep, both in length and quality is not good, your attention will suffer. Sleep deprivation also affects our memory and how our brain creates the necessary connections for long-term memory.
4. The Collapse of Sustained Reading
We are reading less and less books, expecially complex literary fiction. For example, in Britain and other countries between 2008 and 2016 the market for novels fell by 40 percent.
Reading long, relatively complex texts, is a good exercise to increase our ability to focus. But it’s also important from where we’re reading.
Anne Mangen is a professor of literacy at Stavanger University in Norway, and she explains in the book that in two decades of researching this subject, she has proved something crucial.
Reading books trains us to read in a particular way – in a linear fashion, focused on one thing for a sustained period. Reading from screens, she has discovered, trains us to read in a different way – in a manic skip and jump from one thing to another. ‘We’re more likely to scan and skim’ when we read on screens, her studies have found.
Anne has also found in other studies that we’re able to remember and understand less if the source of information is on screens.
It has also been found in other studies run by Raymond Mar, a professor in York University in Toronto, that the more novels you read, the better you were at reading other people’s emotions. So reading is also important for navigating the real world.
5. The Disruption of Mind-Wandering
We’re having less and less time to pause between tasks. If you go for a walk and you’re listening to a podcast, or you just enjoy some leisure time, it seems like a waste of time.
The evidence seems to show that this “pause” when absorbing information or working on demanding tasks, is important for creativity and link things together.
6. The Rise of Technology That Can Track and Manipulate You
Some of the companies behind free services like social networks or search engines, create a profile of you that it’s later used to manipulate you and influence you in buying things you don’t want or in keeping you “hooked” using that service.
7. The Rise of Cruel Optimism
Not all the people can do what a few do when they disconnect from technology. They sometimes understand more how it works and what makes us addicted to it or just because they have more time or wealth and they can afford to analyze these problems more deeply.
The attitude of thinking that just because I can or I could everyone could do it too, is cruel optimism and generates an environment where the rest of people have a way harder time achieving the same thing, like disconnecting from technology or losing weight.
8. The Surge in Stress and How It Is Triggering Vigilance
On top of the technology invading our lifes, we’re more stressed now by the lack of sleep, the pressure to keep working on our careers.
The stress in our lifes creates a perfect recipe to be more distracted, and to be more easily distracted, by technology.
9/10. Our Deteriorating diets and pollution
Both the diets we have and the pollution in many parts of the world, have proven to worse our capacity to focus apart from the health issues they create.
Kids are especially affected by this, when we give them sugar for breakfast, the after-effect of that sugar intake makes it very hard for them to focus in class.
How to achieve and promote more focus
It’s important that pre-commit to it if we want to succeed. The author even locks his phone in a box called kSafe so he can’t use for X time each day.
Change how we respond to our distractions
Instead of self-punishing, we should ask ourselves some questions like:
- “What could you do now to get into a flow state, and access your mind’s own ability to focus deeply?”
- “What would be something meaningful to me that I could do now?”
- “What is at the edge of my abilities? How can I do something that matches these criteria now?”
Taking time off from social media
Make sure you take some time off frequently from social media since it’s designed to be addictive. The author takes 6 months every year.
Going for a walk without distractions
Mind-wandering is essentialy for creativity so go for a walk or a run for some time each day without phone or music to improve your creativity.
Sleep is instrumental to your ability to focus so make it one of your top priorities by making sure you go to bed at the same time each day and get enough sleep.
 Oprah Daily Blog (2022). Your Focus Has Been Stolen from You.