I read an enthralling and disarming article by Tony Schwartz a few days ago and it really struck home. Tony is the CEO of the energy project theenergyproject.com/ a niche player in the revolution to create better places to work and thrive.
What really got my attention was he described his life and his love of books, how they have been companions and refuge for many decades. He summarised and highlighted the fact that his desire to own books has not changed but that his ability to read them had.
It was at this point I glanced over at my bedside table and saw 'more than one' book stacked waiting to be read. I am a voracious reader and sometimes read multiple books at once spread between my electronic repositories and the paper versions that I cannot resist on a day when my common sense was left behind on the ferry trip to the city!
This prompted me to do a personal time motion study - on myself.
Has your average time to finish a book increased or decreased in the last 24 months?
How many times a day do you check your emails?
How many different news feeds are you consuming per day?
How long can you go during an average day before checking 'something' voluntarily or involuntarily as a result of settings that are watching trends for you?
How many times do you need to read a paragraph over to 'get it'
Do you find it difficult to give something your undivided attention for at least 90 minutes?
“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive." Nicholas Carr.
So now I was worried as the big 'A' word loomed large in my peripheral vision.
According to Schwartz, addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life (for me books are part of everyday life and my time and motion study had given me data.)
By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet. It has arguably replaced work itself as our most socially sanctioned addiction.
The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop.” Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect.
Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.
No obstacle to recovery is greater than the infinite capacity to rationalize our compulsive behaviors.
I reflected on some recent mindfulness certification training I attended and remembered how hard it had been at the beginning to not go for my phone and its endless stream of messages, to do's and useless threads of information.
We all have this malady to varying degrees and depths - I am confident in saying that now.
Become aware of your habits - online and offline
Set a few measurable goals targeting things that you can do daily at the same time so you can create new habits that do not divert attention nor create noise
Plan the time you are going to invest online, make sure there is ROI - Time happens to be our most valuable commodity so it seems illogical that we would not instinctively do this
Set yourself a book reading target to recalibrate your focus and retention muscles - use 'old faithful' to bring it back
Create feedback loops that allow you to objectively check how you are doing, do not let rationalisation dull your sense of urgency in this regard
Plan a technology free vacation at least once a year
If you still feel like this is not a problem I dare you to go to a restaurant or public place sometime in the next week and just quietly observe your surroundings. Chances are you will find people of all ages out to dinner or supposedly sharing time, mechanistically glued to some sort of NOISE.
Consider the impacts of this on your work, your insight and your life. A noisy brain is an unfocussed brain and an unfocussed brain leads to mitigated impact.