Reclaiming My Focus

Focus. It’s an ability I used to take for granted. But not anymore. For whatever reason—age, information overload, pandemic-induced anxiety—I’m just not able to concentrate the way I once did.

Is the inability to do so a warning sign of cognitive decline?

After coming across conflicting opinions online, that’s a question I plan to ask at my next physical. In the meantime, I did what I usually do when seeking answers, I found a book to read: Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again byJohann Hari.

What I learned—that our attention is being stolen—was disturbing enough but the fact that Facebook and other social media companies have intentionally designed their sites to keep us online and coming back so they can maximize their revenue has prompted me to shy away from logging on.

Despite this, Amazon knows what I’m reading, and Alexa often knows what I’m having for dinner. Google Nest knows if I’m home, and Google Maps knows where I’m at when I’m not.

While there are some positives to this—for instance, I no longer have to look up and then print directions—I don’t like feeling that I’m being surveilled.

So I unplugged Alexa and put her in the basement, and I closed out 60+ accounts I rarely use. I also unsubscribed from dozens of e-letters.

And, after a University of Oregon study found that if we are focusing on something and get interrupted, it takes 23 minutes on average for us to get back to the same state of focus, I’ve turned off the ringer on my phone and no longer leave email open all day.

The goal: to return my focus to what I really want to be paying attention to: my family and friends and the causes I care about.


10 thoughts on “Reclaiming My Focus

  1. Bless you for having the courage to write this! Of course you felt spied on, because you were being spied on! Social media is designed to be addictive, and all those assistants are constantly monitoring our movements. At the moment, that information is being used to sell us stuff, but just think what would happen if we found ourselves living in a dictatorship? Even if we don’t use Alexa or Siri, as you say, our phones are tracking our location (so are our cars) and all our written words (texts, emails, this comment) are also not private. It’s downright creepy, so we tend to simply not think about it. You took all the steps you can to get your focus back on the things you want to focus on, which is great! But as for privacy, that’s a dinosaur…….completely extinct.

    • I appreciate your thoughtful comment. And you are right, privacy is extinct. And the more I learn about how much we are monitored, the worse I feel.

  2. A reduction in media is always a good idea. There is just too much to take in. As an aside, my SIL told me today about a study linking sugar with dementia. I gave up sugar 11 months ago, and I noticed late this summer that my attention was returning (no more starting a paragraph 3x!) and brain fog is lifting, so there might be something to that!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment and for bringing up sugar. I have been reading about sugar connected to dementia at a time when I’m consuming more sugar than usual and have thought about cutting back but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. You’ve motivated me to get serious, particularly since you’ve said your brain fog, something I’ve been struggling with, is lifting.

      • I encourage you, Bev. It takes about 2 weeks for the craving to stop. Then it goes to willpower when you see a dessert, esp. when you are hungry! It takes a bit of discipline to ‘just say no’ to sugar! But in time you will feel better, have better immunity and clearer thinking, guaranteed!

  3. Great topic! I’m very distractible, so I’ve shut off social media notifications. I just check occasionally when I’m taking a break. I also turn off email when I’m trying to write—everyone can live without me for 2 hours. I realize that’s easier now that I’m retired, but I did it while I was working and needed to concentrate or hit a deadline. I agree with your conclusion— save our precious attention for who and what matter most.

  4. This rings so true for me….I am not sure that I will get away from the email trap in the next few months, but I have been doing better on pinpointing how distractions affect me. But sometimes, particularly when I am writing, I need to “leave” for a bit in order to have my thoughts settle. Is there such a thing as a useful distraction? 🙂

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