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Last week, I wrote about Johann Hari's latest must-read book, Stolen Focus, and why we are all so distracted and struggle to focus. His overarching point is that we can only solve a portion of these problems independently. The challenges each of us have go far beyond you and me having a focus problem. However, what does Hari's extensive research recommend since we all lose hours and hours of our days and lives cumulatively?

1. Nurture your brain the same way you would if you bought a magnificent plant

a) Create Flow states. Flow is where you are not distracted and can do your best (somewhat challenging) work without noticing the passage of time because you are so engrossed. This takes very deliberate thought and planning, but you can do it! The best person to learn this from is @Steven Kotler. His work is brilliant, especially The Art of Impossible.

When you get distracted, don't shame yourself. Instead, ask yourself: “What could I do now to get into a flow state? What would be something meaningful to me that I could do now? What is at the edge of my abilities? How can I do something that matches these criteria now?”

Monotask and slowly devote more time just to one task. Multitasking is a myth. The human brain can only and will only ever be able to produce 1 or 2 thoughts at once in your conscious mind. All it does is slow down what you get done and exhaust your mental energy much sooner. Then, you become even less productive.

b) Read books: Dozens of studies have found that we read more carefully off pages versus screens.

c) Discover meaningful activities you want to focus on

d) Have space so you can let your mind wander and make sense of your life. Our brains need time to process and filter information – one more reason we are feeling overwhelmed is we are rarely doing this. This is something all of us can do today: instead of listening to something when you're driving or doing something in the kitchen OR if you're sitting on a train, don't look at your phone; just let your mind wander. Caveat: only do this when feeling safe and not stressed; otherwise, the mind tends to nosedive into negativity (this never occurred to me before, so I've found this suggestion extremely helpful). The best thing to do is to go for a walk and not look at your phone.

e) Exercise – your brain needs the oxygen, and you will focus better.

f) Sleep properly: eight hours—seven minimum. Avoid screens 1-2 hours before bed because the blue light messes with your head and makes you overly alert. A page of helpful sleep habits is in B.J. Fogg's Tiny Habits.

g) Eat nutritious food that allows you to develop a healthy brain: Eat foods your grandparents would recognize and around supermarkets' outer edges – fruit, veg, meat, and fish. Eat foods without the preservatives, additives, and dyes that pollute your body and brain. Brain foods include spinach, blueberries, apples, walnuts, salmon, MCT oil, and hemp seeds (See brain coach Jim Kwik, Limitless for more).

Avoid the sugar/caffeine spikes and crashes. Don't blame yourself: Remember that every time you try to give up eating junk or sugar, “there's a team of expert marketers trying to get you to crack…and associate positive feelings with unhealthy food.” That is the trick. Instead of telling yourself, “Ooh delicious,” you literally need to tell yourself something totally off-putting enough to no longer make it a positive association, such as: “Yuck: diabetes. Yuck: obesity. Yuck: future stroke. Yuck: colon cancer.” Sorry, but the coffee shops and display case culture are unlikely to change regarding your new health goal.

h) Have a sense of safety: Find ways to reduce your stress because stress corrodes attention. Mediation and yoga help because of the deep breathing and physical stretching.

2. Reduce tech distractions

Firstly, mindset: it's not about being pro-tech or anti-tech: “The real debate is: WHAT tech, designed for WHAT purpose, in WHOSE interests?”

A digital detox is not the solution because too many systemic issues need addressing. But taking a week or month off a social media site can help.

*Plan your day in more detail: It's easier to focus when you commit to spending 30 minutes on a specific task – provided you put your phone away and pay close attention to what distracts you – computer notifications or other interruptions. This may be a project at first! (You also need to be aware of which sites will distract you when you pull up the internet; for me, it's notifications from my Rising Star app or that I have a message on LinkedIn.)

*Lock your phone away in a KSafe.
*Change notifications.
*Turn off the internet if possible when working on certain projects.
*Plan your email time or time to do searches online.
*Decide in advance how much time you will allow on a site.
*Delete apps off your phone so you don't see and get distracted by them.
*Unsubscribe from email lists (just not this – ha!)
*Use the do not disturb function.

3. Be more skeptical about messages of “cruel optimism” that suggest your individual changes will solve all your focusing problems when these are just a start

Tech companies – like the diet industry with weight loss – want us to blame ourselves. They are urging us to see our distraction challenges as an individual problem that includes self-restraint on our part but not theirs!

Hari is deeply wary about books like Nir Eyal's Indestructible – which claims you and I can solve all our focusing problems because he says he did. Cruel optimism is when the solutions to a complex problem such as depression, addiction, or obesity are presented as simplistic individual solutions in upbeat language.

4. Rebuild childhood so the kids in your life can play freely like previous generations.

Free play with kids reduces their structure, making it easier for them to act independently, interact with peers, and build their own focusing skills without screens. Let them go out and play with less supervision, just like previous generations.

5. Authentic optimism and supporting a ban on surveillance capitalism

We are being interrupted and hooked so that we can't focus. Hari asks: “Why should we accept an environment full of programs designed to hook us and drive us crazy? These technologies are only going to get more sophisticated and invasive.”

Authentic optimism is that ordinary people CAN rally together to make change. Ordinary people have often made momentous changes in our societies and brought increased freedoms to many through revolutions, protests, wars, and civil wars that overturned dictators, repressive regimes, and institutions such as slavery. Our world would be grim if it hadn't been for brave people like the Suffragettes, the civil rights and gay rights movement, Gandhi, Malala Yousafzai, Mandela, and the trade union movement. Hari points out that ordinary people protested about and forced the bans on lead paint and CFCs.

“These companies will never restrain themselves…they have to be stopped by us” – their business model is to grow and profit however they see fit, not to advance humankind's development and global goodness.

Hari's bigger concern is that the age we live in makes it much harder for people to unite around a healthy cause. Most of us feel so spread thin, crazy busy, and often distracted – how many people will prioritize the time to help future generations when we feel so depleted? In addition, living in a culture of breaking and fake news could easily undermine a cause – especially one taking a stand against the tech sites that can disseminate whatever real or fake information they choose.

More of us are needed to “fight to heal and restore our attention.” Hari cites three groups to check out. One is the Center for Humane Technology:, which features this summary of the problem on its homepage:
“The real problem of humanity is the following:
We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology.”
— Dr. E.O. Wilson, Sociobiologist

6. A four-day work week.

We don't all have to work the way we do today; we are just used to it. Rather like how we adapted during the pandemic, there is a norm until there isn't, and we adapt. It is NOT SMART of us to have no clearly defined work and play hours – especially when the people we work for love it. Give people the legal right to unplug – too many bosses don't allow it yet; ironically, those workers will become more productive and creative.

7. A new global mindset that economic growth is not sustainable forever.

Hari worries that this might be the hardest mindset to shift. Personal growth is great, but most countries globally have been striving for economic growth as a norm since the 1880s. Some of the nineteenth-century mindset led to land grabbing and world wars when people fought over territory for their “place in the sun.” That land ran out. There wasn't any left. So now, with fewer new markets, many companies are simply marketing to us more and doing it more invasively. Think about the trajectory we are on: it is pushing the planet beyond its ecological limits. And our climate is trying to let us know we are pushing it too hard.

Never-ceasing' growth' is also exhausting you and me – its people. I've been sucked into this myself: We live as if buying more things makes us happy, and then we have to work even more to pay for these things. When we hardly ever take breaks, our focus suffers – and not being constantly busy is now socially frowned on. We wear out. A new mindset of a “steady-state economy” is healthier. “We want a good life, not a fast life.”

I realize this is a departure from my usual content, but it is naïve to assume that we have total control over every facet of our life. We are not all living on our own islands. My take from Hari's book is that our challenges to focus well require MANY intentional, seldom easy actions from each of us and some compassion for us all, too: many smart people are working hard to capture our attention. And we owe it to ourselves and our scrambled brains, our kids, and the people who will inhabit our homes and planet after us to take a more proactive stance.

To more focus and flow!