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COLUMN: Take time to unplug – it could help you find your focus


Do you find yourself reaching for your smartphone no matter how engaged you are by what you're already doing? 

Maybe you're watching Netflix, working on homework or listening to a fascinating speaker and yet, you feel the need to focus on something else. The problem is whether you're a captive listener or a bored binge-watcher, living in the digital age may have trained your brain to crave distraction. 

According to AARP, "As distraction becomes the norm, we start to crave it when it doesn’t exist, which is why so many people check their phone screens even as they walk down the street." 

While having a never-ending influx of information at the tips of our fingers might allow us to process information more quickly, it has also altered our minds to constantly transition from task to task.

“'The brain starts learning how to switch rapidly from one task to another to another,” said William Klemm, senior professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University and author of Teach Your Kids How to Learn. “It becomes a habit. But this habit conflicts with focused attentiveness,'” according to an AARP article. 

Learning something new can be a tedious task because it involves approaching something foreign and unfamiliar. Thus, it requires a certain level of boredom. If we resist any and all forms of boredom, we might become completely averse to learning any new skills or talents. 

The average person had an attention span of about 12 seconds before so many smart-devices existed, according to PsychCentral, a mental health social network. Now though, it's believed we can only focus on something for roughly eight seconds. Meanwhile, the average attention span of a goldfish, known for being very easily distracted, is nine seconds, according to The Telegraph

The digital age has allowed for a goldfish to possibly hold a thought longer than most humans.  

As much as it might damage our egos to believe that something as small as a goldfish could have better focus, we've all felt it: That nagging feeling, no matter what we're doing, to reach for your phone, the boredom after a few minutes of studying and the constant multi-tasking to stay awake. 

We live in a digital world now, and however you may feel about that, the truth is it has altered our brains. The younger you are, the higher the chances that you've been conditioned to constantly switch between tasks or thoughts. 

So, is there anything that we can do fix our focus? Reading a novel, playing an instrument, learning a language or volunteering are all ways that can help you regain your focus, according to AARP. This is because tasks like this engage your brain with one goal, for a prolonged period of time. Allowing your mind to dive in to these types of detailed tasks re-trains it to focus for a longer amount of time.

Higher focus is important for many areas of life, including school, work and many personal hobbies. So, has our lack of focus affected other areas of our lives? Perhaps we allow ourselves to become so easily distracted in order to keep our attention away from what's happening around us. 

Americans stream nearly eight billion hours of content per month, according to TechCrunch and spend an average of 24 hours a week online, according to MIT Technology Review. The voter turnout for the 2016 presidential election was the lowest in two decades, according to CNN

Has technology turned us into internet-driven, distraction-craving individuals? Or are we turning to any means we have to distract us from a world we don't want to participate in? Either way, we're not truly living in the real world as much as we should. 

We seek distraction for various reasons, and it's become an issue for our own personal development. We're no longer looking up from the screen to see what the world has to offer us.

Let's stop focusing on how many followers or likes we get online and give ourselves the chance to actually have the ability to focus.

It's time to unplug from digital distractions and start focusing on where we are in the real world. 

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