This is a guest post from Aaron Shamp. He is a pastor, writer, professor, dad and Stay Forth Coaching coaching client based in Lafayette, Louisiana.
I had my spot in the coffee shop. With just a few sips of the hot Costa Rica pour over, I was eager to sit and crank out a new article. “I better capitalize on this momentum,” I thought to myself. After connecting my noise canceling headphones to my iPhone, I went to queue up my James Blake playlist. His music gets my creative juices flowing. When my phone unlocked, I saw red bubbles. One email and two text messages… “Oh, I should check those.”
If I were a gambling man, I’d place my money on the bet that you have experienced a something similar. Perhaps it wasn’t notifications on your home screen. You might have had your focus derailed by a quick check of social media. Before you knew it, you burned through forty-five minutes of mindless browsing. Or you might have been highly motivated to get some work done only to be sidetracked by a phone call, knock on the door, etc.
We often hear the phrase “[Blank] is the new normal.” We were hearing it a lot after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and people were questioning which aspects of pandemic life would become the new normal. My contention is that distracted is the new normal.
Distracted has become our normal, our default, our expected. By this, I mean more than that our world is filled with numerous, various distractions. Rather, we live in a constant state of distracted. Why has this become the new normal?
Certainly, one of the primary reasons is the advent of the internet and the smart phone. The internet is a unique medium in that it has the capability to incorporate any other medium within itself. Think of how a typical webpage can have text, images, videos, sounds, notifications, hyperlinks, and more.
In his book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr described the internet’s effect on our working memory (conscious focus) with the analogy of filling a bathtub with a thimble. Your working memory processes information in the amounts of a thimble. Your brain’s task is to take thimbles of water (information) to fill a bathtub, which is your longterm memory. Reading a book is like a single, steady flow of water going into your thimble. The internet is like having three or four faucets gushing water which you are trying to collect with your thimble.
Overcoming distracted might be one of the biggest breakthroughs you need right now. You can reclaim your relationships, your work, and your life when you reclaim your attention. A good place to start is with Digital Minimalism and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Step out of the shallows and into the deep where there is a much richer, fuller life waiting for you.