In this episode, we delve into the extraordinary traits of those who endure hardships to achieve greatness. From the courageous Marines of Iwo Jima to the intrepid explorer Ernest Shackleton, and the valiant stand of Leonidas against the Persians, these heroes willingly faced hell to emerge victorious. Join us as we explore the valuable lessons we can learn from these exceptional individuals.
The Power of Consistency: Discover the importance of creating consistency in your endeavors, paving the way for success and honor.
Rituals and Habits of Elite Presenters: Learn from the practices of great presenters and entertainers that contribute to their remarkable performances.
Maximizing Your Chronotype: Gain new insights on how to leverage your chronotype for optimal productivity and efficiency.
Cultivating Mental Toughness: Uncover techniques to develop and deploy mental toughness in challenging situations.
VGDS Global presents this captivating podcast, highlighting the significance of enduring hardships and the potential for triumph and honor on the other side. Tune in for inspiring stories and valuable lessons to elevate your own journey.
I recently read an article by Johann Hari published this month in The Guardian. It starts with these lines: “Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen. Social media and many other facets of modern life are destroying our ability to concentrate. We need to reclaim our minds while we still can.” That’s scary and sobering stuff.
Since we are a presentation design and skills company, it’s the kind of stuff we need to be talking about because the ability to focus one’s attention is crucial to the field of public speaking. If, as Hari says, we really are in a period of crisis when it comes to the human attention span, we need to be on the front lines of understanding what is happening and how we can best respond. We need to be working towards a solution that benefits not just presenters, but all humans.
To that end, today we’ll use Hari’s article as a jumping off point to discuss the problems with modern attention spans along with some things we can do to help.
The Attention Problems
Technology & Social Media
The main culprits in the attention span crisis probably won’t surprise you. Researchers, teachers and employers alike blame technology and social media for the decline of the modern attention span. And they have a point. Our mediated lives make us constantly accessible. And while that sounds like a huge benefit at first, it’s not all it is cracked up to be. Being constantly accessible means we are also almost constantly distracted.
Our distractions come in the form of emails and texts and social media notifications that push through to our phones and laptops at all hours of the day. But they also come just from the phone sitting next to us. Even without a notification coming through, it’s getting increasingly difficult not to pick up the phone to see if you missed something, to check the weather or headlines, or to play just one quick round of solitaire.
Though we might think we are great multitaskers, researchers have proven that multitasking is a myth. Chris Adams, an expert in work environments says that what we think of as multitasking is actually just a series of really fast switches. He says, “the switches are fast (tenths of a second) so you may not notice them, but those delays and the loss of focus can add up.” He says when we switch from doing one thing to another, we move through two steps. “The first is goal shifting. This happens when you switch your focus from one task to another. The second stage is rule activation. This turns off the rules (how the brain completes a given task) for the previous task and turns on the rules for the new task. So, when you think you are multitasking you are actually switching your goals and turning the respective rules on and off in rapid succession.”
How It Affects Performance
This constant accessibility, constant distraction, and constant switching is affecting our brains and attention spans in ways that we don’t even fully realize yet. Hari cites the research of professor and neuroscientist Earl Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Miller says that every time we switch tasks, our brain “has to reconfigure” and evidence shows that “performance drops” and so does our speed, “all as a result of the switching.” Other research cited by Hari has proven that just being distracted by an incoming message can reduce our performance by 20%.
The Drain on Introverts
For those of us who are introverts, the constant accessibility might have an even stronger negative effect because we need more downtime to recharge. I’ve found this true in my own experience. I honestly don’t like having my phone on me constantly. When my husband asked if I would want an Apple watch, I couldn’t stand the thought of it. It drains me to know that people can contact me and interrupt my work at any given time. And yet my teenage daughters can’t comprehend why I would walk into the garage, let alone run to the store, without my phone. Cell phones have been around since they were born, so they don’t understand what it is like to not be able to reach someone the instant you need them. That points to the larger culture shift that is stealing our ability to focus.
So what do we do about it? How do we fight back?
The Attention Solutions
In Hari’s article, he talks about unplugging cold turkey. He gets away from his cell phone and internet for a period of time. And during that time, he says he felt his old attention span and ability to focus start to rebuild. But interestingly enough, he doesn’t say that abstinence from technology is the best option. And Google engineer James Williams helped him understand why time away often doesn’t work. “Individual abstinence is ‘not the solution, for the same reason that wearing a gas mask for two days a week outside isn’t the answer to pollution. It might, for a short period of time, keep certain effects at bay, but it’s not sustainable, and it doesn’t address the systemic issues.”
In other words, we can’t pretend we don’t live in a mediated world. We can’t make the decision to unplug when so much of our lives are governed and enriched by social media. Like it or not, the world has changed. And we have to get smart about how these changes affect us and take back some control.
That’s where boundaries come in. Do you want to know the best thing I learned from Hari’s article? That France has actually passed a law that gives workers the “right to disconnect.” It means their employers can’t expect them to check work email outside of their work hours. “The measure is intended to tackle the so-called “always-on” work culture . . . Under the new law, companies will be obliged to negotiate with employees to agree on their rights to switch off and ways they can reduce the intrusion of work into their private lives.” For me, that feels like a deep sigh. It feels like a little bit of hope and a step in the right direction.
Taking Small Steps
Along with fighting to pass laws in our own country that protect our downtime, we can make small decisions to rebuild our attention spans. We can battle against the ever-connected, ever-disrupted, ever-accessible culture we’ve found ourselves living in. Take these steps to improve your focus:
Establish and maintain firm work hours.
Work to free yourself from the guilt and shame that you may initially feel when you don’t check your email at all hours or don’t respond to texts right away.
Turn your cell phone off or put it out of reach when you engaged in projects, works, or conversations that need your undivided attention. (I promise the world won’t end.)
Create a number of intentional phone-free times each week. Take a walk. Enjoy an uninterrupted mealtime. Or engage in a half-hour of old-fashioned reading.
Make use of the do not disturb and new focus modes on your phone. Here’s how to set up your focus modes on an Apple iphone.
In these small ways and others, we can begin to shift the culture. We can work to take back the attention span that Hari says has been stolen from us. When we go to battle for the sake of our focus, we do so for the sake of our culture and our brains and our children. But we do so also for the sake of presentations. So that we don’t become a species so incredibly distracted that we can’t listen to or deliver a message with a clear mind.
From all of us at VGDS GLOBAL, we hope 2023 grants you renewed energy and focus to do what you love for the sake of building a better world. If you need help with your next big presentation, we’re here to help.