The Key to Focus (Newsletter 4-5)

by David Bernard

MY ABILITY TO FOCUS is not as grand as I would like it to be, although I’ve always felt it was decent. That is, until a few months ago. At first I thought my struggle with focus was due to an overabundance of things vying for my attention, but further reflection revealed otherwise, So, what was the cause of my increasing inability to concentrate?

I remember what it was like a few years ago. I was serving full time in the ministry while also going to school full time. Time was precious. My wife was also working full time while attending graduate school full time. Additionally, our two children, one who was actively engaged in a busy youth department and the other in children’s ministry, kept us busy. There were many trips, vacations, speaking engagements, and holidays in which my wife would drive while I wrote a paper for school or an article for the Pentecostal Herald. I have memories of sitting in hotel lobbies late at night trying to complete a project. During a trip to Israel, every single night, while others retired to their rooms, I ventured to the lobby to work on a project. Things were busy and the ability to focus was a premium. So why the struggle now?

As I contemplated the question, I sought to identify what was different then in comparison to now and found something. Back then, I was not on Facebook and Twitter and I limited my time surfing the Internet, There was no time for such activities. Could it be that these things were impacting my ability to focus? Surprisingly, it appears so.

Over the course of the past month or so I have read numerous books and articles stating that our brains are being shaped by our use of technology, For example, consider the following. An article by Huffington Post (“This Is How the Internet Is Rewiring Your Brain”) suggests that the Internet may give people an addict’s brain. The article states, research have shown that the brains of Internet users who have trouble controlling their craving to be constantly plugged-in exhibit changes similar to those seen in people addicted to chugs and alcohol.” If this is true, which I have no reason to doubt, the lack of focus should not be surprising.

Dr. Erik Fransen, professor of computer science at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, adds, “Information overload” stimulated in just a normal session of social media browsing “makes it difficult to file information in our memory.” Likewise, a 2009 study by Stanford University suggests the constant bombardment of several streams of electronic information is making it increasingly difficult to focus, We are being “slowed down by irrelevant information,” says Dr. Anthony Wagner, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford.

Many experts believe our online scanning of headlines and posts as well as some quick surfing of links is negatively impacting us. They maintain our mind wanders easily because it has become accustomed to on-demand distraction. Cal Newport, in Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, states, “Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction. It’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life, say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives, is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point, “here it’s not ready for deep work” and has lost its ability to focus.

There are numerous books, articles, and experts weighing in on how the Internet is changing our brains, leaving some to reject the use of technology, But that is not the answer, The problem is not technology: the problem is how we use it.

The key is not the abandonment of the Internet but rather the alignment of purpose. My analysis of my struggle to focus was not prompted by something I read. My analysis was inspired by a desire to fulfill my purpose, I have discovered the more I strive for alignment with purpose the greater my ability to focus.

Alignment with purpose causes me to guard my use of the Internet. My alignment with purpose causes me to be mindful of where and how I invest my time. Social media is not the culprit. The Internet is not my enemy. The issue is one of alignment, we need alignment with purpose.

Are you struggling with focus? Many are. Sadly, many think the removal of distractions leads to focus. But that is not true. The key to focus is not the removal of distractions. The key to focus is alignment with purpose.