“Your focus is your reality,” says Yoda. What we put our attention on has an enormous impact on our life. It seems that now things are competing for our attention more than ever. We can sit watching television with over 1000 channels available. Then, I can pick up my iPhone and look at my email, Facebook, news from thousands of sources, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and much more. All this distraction is important to the quality of our lives.
What is attention? The word, attention, originates in the Latin word, attendere. This means to reach toward, connecting us with the world, shaping and defining. Our attention works like a muscle. If we sit on the couch and do nothing, our muscles get weaker and do not grow; they atrophy. If we get off the couch and play soccer, we build muscle. Over time our legs can get big and very strong.
We live in an era when we receive many messages every day, by text, email, Facebook, or iPhone (voice). According the Nielson, the average American teen sends 3,339 text every month. Ninety four percent of American teens go online daily. Twenty-four percent go online “almost constantly.”
“Children today are more attuned to machines and less to people than has ever been true in human history,” writes Daniel Goleman. Each time a child talk with someone or watching others have a conversation, they are impacted. The social and emotional circuitry of a child’s brain is influenced by these social interactions all day long – at home, school, athletic practice, music rehearsal, or work.
One can see teens often watching movies while they are on their iPhones. They split their attention between two or more things at once. Unfortunately, our attention is a narrow and fixed pipeline. Our attention is not stretchable. If we split our attention, we are required to switch our attention from one thing to another thing and back again. This switching of attention drains our energy. We have more difficulty focusing in a concentrated way.
Our online lifestyle is shaping our physical brains. Children and teenagers are also playing many digital games on iPad, laptop computer, television, and iPhone. Around 8 percent of children and teens between 8 and 18 appear to be addicted to computer games. When we study the brains of these young people addicted to computer games, we see that their brains appear in some ways similar to alcoholics and drug abusers.
Our ability to relate well to others is very important in our success at work as well as our quality of life. In order to form healthy relationships with others, we need to build rapport. It is a process of give and take. We talk and exchange ideas. The better we communicate, the more solid the relationship. When I have good attention, I am able to focus on what you are saying.
Yet we are constantly bombarded with messages, emails, posts on Facebook, YouTube videos, and texts. At a romantic dinner out, we are too often diverted from connecting with one other. I am amazed how often, I see people on their iPhones at an expensive restaurant. Yet everywhere we are tempted by the call of our mobile devise. We must be reminded by commercials and billboards, do not text and drive. Even though, we can die because of our distraction, we choose to risk our life and the lives of others to text while driving!
Distraction has become a great problem in our social interaction. In Silicon Valley, where I live, companies have workplaces have banned laptop computers, iPhones, and tablet computers from company meetings.
When we develop our ability to focus, we are steady in a crisis. When we experience the fear or frustration that comes during times of stress, we are able to stay focused on what is important. Students inevitably will experience difficulties during a semester. Yet some students are able to do their homework and concentrate on their exams. Others find many ways to avoid what is important, because they are upset.
At a party, often you can see how focus works. Some people can carry on a conversation with music at a high volume, focusing on the words of the person with whom they are talking. Another person may be overwhelmed with all the distractions around them – music, people, and things – unable to focus in on listening to the person with whom they are having a conversation.
This ability to focus is a hidden key to our doing things well. It is our ability to focus that enables us to find our way when we experience emotional crisis, relationships challenges, or whatever problems what life presents to us.