In this age of information technology, there are an almost limitless number of places we can go to get information. We check on a website, e-mail someone, look on Facebook or Twitter. We can use a computer, a smartphone, or an iPad. With the push of a button, we can get to Google, YouTube, books online, blogs, TV shows, music, and video games.
And so a paradox emerges – the very technology that helps us get work done and increases our productivity can also be a source of innumerable distractions. We can satisfy every little urge to look at something new, and often we follow our inclinations.
Trends writer, speaker and consultant Linda Stone has called the way we constantly shift our focus “continual partial attention.” With this kind of micro-attention span, we keep one main thing in view, but we are always glancing around the edges to see if something more important or interesting is out there. Keeping your attention focused in the IT age is like being on a diet and working at a chocolate factory. It’s hard to have self-discipline when it is so easy to satisfy our desires.
According to business writer and consultant Tony Schwartz, we are not made to handle all the temptation that we’re up against every day. As proof, he cites the fact that we take on increasing amounts of debt, become overweight, use up the earth’s resources without restraint, and try in vain to pay attention to something for an extended amount of time.
Because of the way our minds work, it’s more satisfying to jump around from one thing to another than to focus for an extended period of time. We like what is new because anything new causes the release of dopamine in our brains, which is a neurotransmitter connected to pleasure.
So, in the face of all of these potent and constant temptations, how can we maintain our self-discipline? Schwartz has a few ideas:
First, think about your most fundamental beliefs and values and let them be a guide to your behavior. Who are you, what do you want to be known for, what is significant and important for you?
Slow things down, and think before you act, rather than just react. Build up good habits, activities that you do every day at certain times until they become automatic. As an example, you could do the most important activity of the day the first thing in the morning for 60 minutes, with the same start and finish time, times which you refuse to tamper with under any circumstances.
Try to remove temptation where you can because our capacity for self-control actually increases the more we use it. Also, you can improve your attention span if you work on it. Just like anything else, practice helps. Push your attention span a little, not too much that you overpower it, but a small amount, and continue to increase it incrementally.
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