Why You Need Sustained Focus
In our world of touch screens and endless scroll, the inability to focus is epidemic. We touch our phones an average of 2,617 times every 24 hours. And sadly, human beings who are interrupted from their task—as studies show that office workers are on average every three minutes—take an average of 23 minutes to return to deep focus. Which means that deep focus simply isn’t happening.
When you are robbed of your focus, it impoverishes your quality of life and so much more.
On a recent vacation, I brought the perfect book to read: Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari. It promised to reveal “Why you can’t pay attention—and how to think deeply again.” I found that it delivered well.
The book identifies 12 causes for society’s attention crisis, which involves technology, the volume of information coming at us, constant switching and continuous distractions, sleep deprivation, bad food, pollutants, drugs and more. Our society is largely designed to steal our attention and leave us with poor focus, not to mention poor mental health and poor physical health.
It reminded me of an old article I’ve kept for years titled “How to Organize Your Life God’s Way.” “In this lawless, perverse, pleasure-mad society in which we are living, all of us as God’s people must constantly grapple with the challenge of staying close to God in spite of the world around us,” this article says. “Satan is the god of this world, and he has arrayed the entire society against us to distract us and snare us as we seek to draw near to God and serve Him. Satan is the world’s greatest time-waster, and he has designed this society and this world to waste your time and your life!”
The life God gave you is short, and time is precious. You must make the most of it.
Truly, the devil’s world is engineering more ways than ever to squander your focus, your time and your life. “Satan has increased the pace of the society and has ‘jammed the frequency’ with materialistic distractions,” this article continues. “He has littered the world with every conceivable gadget, activity, pleasure and late-night entertainment to keep mankind ‘active’ and ‘busy’ from the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he falls into bed exhausted late at night. There is simply no time to stop and ponder the purpose of human existence and where all this is leading.”
Dangerously, disastrously true. And think of the consequences: So many of our problems are caused or exacerbated by the degree and intensity with which the average person is frenzied, distracted and caught up in trivialities. If you are not actively resisting this onslaught, you are being heavily affected by it.
Your mind was created to develop, to improve, to mature. That requires a lot of things, but perhaps first of all it requires focus. Your mind can only grow if you can concentrate on things that matter for more than three minutes at a time. Only then can you delve into the type of thinking, reading, studying and meditation that will help you grow into who and what you were created to become.
Hari writes, “The truth is that you are living in a system that is pouring acid on your attention every day.”
“We told ourselves we could have a massive expansion in the amount of information we are exposed to, and the speed at which it hits us, with no costs. This is a delusion: ‘It becomes exhausting.’ More importantly, [Prof. Sune Lehmann] said, ‘what we are sacrificing is depth in all sorts of dimensions. … Depth takes time. And depth takes reflection. If you have to keep up with everything and send e-mails all the time, there’s no time to reach depth. Depth connected to your work in relationships also takes time. It takes energy. It takes long time spans. And it takes commitment. It takes attention, right? All of these things that require depth are suffering. It’s pulling us more and more up onto the surface.”
Yes, our distraction-slinging society keeps pulling us to the surface.
Stolen Focus describes how Google measures success by “engagement”—minutes and hours of eyeballs on the product. Engineers are always looking for new ways to suck eyeballs onto their programs and keep them there. They are constantly proposing more interruptions to people’s lives. Google shapes more than 11 billion interruptions to people’s lives every day.
“Your distraction is their fuel,” Hari writes. This is how tech companies make their money; it is the basis of their whole business model. Many of these brilliant engineers thought they would help make the world a better place, but are now “caught in this arms race to manipulate human nature.”
Hari quotes Tony Fadell, who co-invented the iPhone, as saying, “I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, What did we bring to the world?” He worries that he had helped create “a nuclear bomb” that can “blow up people’s brains and reprogram them.”
His fear is justified. People are being reprogrammed. The average American teenager between 13 and 17 years old now sends one text message for every six minutes he is awake. The average Internet user who clicks on a photo is pulled away from whatever he or she was doing for 20 minutes before he or she gets back to it. And so on.
The consequences for society are grave. They are also devastating personally. Distraction overload is death by a thousand cuts to your relationships. Unless you can focus, you cannot maintain quality relationships with your spouse or your children. And you can’t develop a real relationship with your Creator.
God wants to teach you knowledge (Isaiah 28:9). God wants to reason together with you (Isaiah 1:18). He wants you to mature from the way of thinking of a baby or a child to thinking like an adult and, ultimately, to thinking like God (1 Corinthians 13:11; 2:9-12).
To be able to do that, however, you need to be able to focus in prayer. You need focus for quality Bible study. You need focus to keep the first and great commandment: Love God with all your heart (Matthew 22:37).
The devil is always trying to steal pieces of our heart—to distract us, divert us and chop up our attention. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, the Apostle Paul warns that we must not be “ignorant of Satan’s devices”—or else he will “get an advantage [over] us.” In any war, ignorance of the enemy is dangerous. If you’re walking through a minefield, you want to be able to see those mines. If the devil is laying a trap for you, it’s important to recognize it! We’re far more vulnerable to the devil if we are ignorant of his devices. (That word “devices” in the Greek means designs or schemes—but that is also the word we use for the smartphones, tablets and laptops we are so dependent on. And they can easily become “Satan’s devices.”)
People are getting addicted to these meaningless things. That is the express intent of so many of these devices! Engineers are literally hacking our brains and using our own weaknesses against us to waste our time for their own profit.
Addiction is a form of slavery. And the one who is ultimately behind it is the devil. He is using every flaw in human nature against us to waste our time and waste our life.
Nearly 12 years ago, theTrumpet.com managing editor Brad Macdonald wrote a fantastic article titled “The Perils of Screen Addiction (and How to Beat It).” He quoted one neuroscientist saying, “My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”
That is precisely what Satan is aiming for. And look at the problems this is creating in society. This attentional deficit is causing all kinds of crises because nobody is thinking properly or even clearly. People who have important things to say are seldom listened to. People who can manipulate and exacerbate lack of focus are getting rich. Political leaders are openly taking advantage of the fact that people can’t remember something for very long. This makes their lies more powerful than ever.
If you want to break free from these destructive influences, read Mr. Macdonald’s article. It has several good, practical suggestions for making progress in this area.
We also have another helpful article at theTrumpet.com’s sister website, pcg.church, from our Christian-living magazine Royal Vision (another magazine we make freely available to those who request it). The article is “Meditation: The Art of Godly Thinking.” It gives a more in-depth scriptural view of this subject.
Romans 12:2 states, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It is easy to conform to this world, which is constantly pulling us down and in. Our minds need regular renewal. We need that spiritual renewal to be ready for each day.
Take the steps you must to ensure you have a clean, sharp mind each day, to give your all to your responsibilities, to your loved ones and to God.