Distraction – a natural distraction and a natural disaster

Distraction is natural

Throughout the day we are subjected to potentially endless distractions.

Being distracted is actually normal. Complete focus isn’t even achievable. The trouble is that there are vested interests in deliberately distracting us.

As Dr Amishi Jha, in ‘Peak Mind’, relates in study after study, “there were zero circumstances in which participants maintained their focus 100 percent of the time.” There’s also a natural explanation. Distraction is an evolutionary development for survival. A mind that was completely focussed was at high risk of being attacked by silent and oncoming prey. A mind that could toggle in and out of attention is one that survives, since it is more likely to coincidentally see dangers (and also opportunities).

So we have a brain that’s susceptible to distraction and naturally inclined to wander. As Dr Jha says, our attention is powerful, trainable but also fragile.

The trouble appears to be that there are vested interests in capturing our attention for ulterior motives (often profiting from selling your attention). Tech companies are using algorithms to gain ‘limbic system hijack’ – via the most emotive and evocative stimuli – salient for immediate attention.

Limbic System Hijack!

What does this mean? The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses. This emotive part of our brain (the amygdala) overrides the rational part of our brain. In such circumstances, willpower and rationality – the intention not be distracted – are not going to triumph over the attention industry’s algorithms, which capture our attention with rapid distribution of evocative content.

The tech industry understands the power of distraction. Consequently, throughout the day we are having our natural inclination for distraction subjected to potentially endless amounts of evocative content, which in turn leads to unnatural levels of distraction and an increased fragility of attention.

When our limbic system is hijacked, it is more than just a distraction.

As we discovered, ‘distractions’ are the places we go to seek relief from the discomfort of confronting limitation as we will find out later in this book.

Pause for thought

  • How long can you hold your attention? Try focussing on the graphic below and see what happens.
  • How many lines of a book page can you read before your mind wanders?
  • What are you doing when you feel most distracted?