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The Fragmentation of Focus, And What You Can Do About it!

The Fragmentation of Focus, And What You Can Do About it!

Over the past two years, I have noticed something change in me. At first, it was barely noticeable, it was subtle — but increasingly I have become more aware of it. What I noticed was the fragmentation of my focus. I came to realize over the past couple of years that my ability to concentrate wasn’t as sharp as it once was. I thought it might have been due to having so much on my plate at work. But then, I have always been very good at focusing on my career.

It Wasn’t Only Happening To Me

As I looked around me, it seemed I wasn’t the only one struggling with focus. In fact, I am often taken by surprise how little focus people have these days. Their actions seem scattered, uncertain, and anxious. Were I first began to notice this was in a curious place, not somewhere most people would expect. As a martial arts coach, I get to work with diverse groups of people, from all walks of life. It was on my mat, in teaching them, that this fragmentation of focus first jumped out at me. People seemed less and less able to stay focused on one specific thing long enough to get it down. Their ability to retain information seemed to escape them. If I wasn’t experiencing the same phenomena myself, I may have put it down to the learning process and simply requiring more time to get it down. But this wasn’t the case.

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I then realized, over the past two years I have focused considerably more on my social media presence than any time in the past. If you are an entrepreneur you are constantly told that you need a social media presence to be competitive in this world. So, taking that advice, I engaged in all of the most popular social media platforms. Before I knew it, I was concerned about likes, comments, and shares. It became addictive, and not checking to see my latest likes, or retweets made me feel like I had missed my morning coffee. An underlying anxiety began to build. First, I couldn’t explain it and wrote it off as stress. But around the same time, my wife, who has never really been into technology or social media, got a brand new iPad for her birthday. Before long, she was hooked too. As we sat around one day talking, we both reflected on this underlying, what we thought was unexplainable anxiety we were both feelings.

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The bottom line is, there is a lot of research now and articles that have been written to show that social media is addictive, and it isn’t good for you. It’s not my intention here to rewrite the research, and in fact, I am pretty convinced that when people think about it, they intuitively know it isn’t good for them too. What I want to offer up here is what I have been doing to get my focus back, and it’s working.

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Here are my 4 tips that anyone can apply in their life to get more focus back in their lives:

  1. When I wake up in the morning now, I take it slow. A cup of coffee, a cuddle with my cat, or a relaxing gaze out the window at the wondrous birds that visit my garden. Only once I am awake for an hour do I open up my laptop or reach for my iPhone. I then clear all my emails, check my social media accounts and head off to work. As a side note, I leave my iPhone in the kitchen overnight and no longer have it lying next to my bed.
  2. Throughout the day I don’t check any of my social media accounts. I stay off Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and only answer emails if I absolutely have too (I run an online business so at times I have no choice). At 4 pm, I check my social media accounts again, and then that’s it for the day.
  3. When I am on social media, especially Facebook I stay away from the newsfeed. I have told all the important people in my life, to tag me rather in a post they make, especially if they want me to be aware of it. This way, the only page I ever see on Facebook is my own. It honestly makes the whole experience a lot less stressful. I don’t get to see the ranting antics of ‘stuff’ that, to be honest, sometimes should simply remain in someone’s head. As a bonus too, I then steer clear from all the negative posts as well.
  4. Anytime I am on social media now, I practice what I call Social Media Mindfulness. I post, and I tweet like everyone else. But just like everyone else, I found, as I noted earlier, that I began to become addicted to the likes, to the feedback. Before I knew it, I had an expectation that people would respond to my tweets, my posts – and when they didn’t, I felt some level of despair and panic. I now post, tweet, or Instagram ensuring that what I put out there is important, and then taking a deep breath, I no longer attach to the outcome. If people like it, or comment, great. If not, that’s fine too.

My four strategies above have allowed me to be on social media, but without becoming consumed by it. Cutting back on how many times I would check my social media accounts during the day (and night) and being disciplined about it has been the single most important change I have made in my daily routine. This alone has boosted my concentration. I am now able to stay more focused on one project at a time for longer because I no longer have that constant background anxiety that I am missing out on something. The truth is, I realized within a week of making these changes, that for the most part, not much changes in 8-hours in my social media world anyway.

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More by this author

Rodney King

Embodied Performance Coach

The Fragmentation of Focus, And What You Can Do About it! Your Voice of Temptation Doesn’t Need To Be In Charge 4 Steps to Managing Your Emotional Life 4 Step To Being More Mindful in The Chaos of Life

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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