Stolen Focus (2022)

This is probably the best book I’ve read/listened to in the past two years and would highly recommend anyone to read this.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention, by Johann Hari.

It’s not a conventional self-help book, with the author telling you how to solve the problem (in this case – regaining your focus), what he has tried, what research says would work, nothing like that.

He does tell you as an individual what we can do to possibly prolong our focus, like for example, getting into a flow state (being passionate about ONE thing that’s meaningful to you), having enough sleep by following your body and nature (not the clock and manmade routines), changing relationship with your devices, reading and especially reading fictions (something that I’ve given up for a long time but been longing to come back to it yet I couldn’t find the excuse!), and letting the mind wonder, without any device.

But the fact that the title is “Stolen” focus, that indicates that it really just isn’t about what we can do. The book goes on to discuss how the bigger environment, societal and education systems around us have been preventing us from doing so (e.g. technology and social media algorithms), yet we are blaming ourselves when we fail to sustain our attention for a prolong period of time.

Here is a pretty good summary from the author towards the end of the book:

When adults notice that children and teens seem to be struggling to focus and pay attention today, we often say it with a wary and exasperated superiority. The implication is, “look at this degraded younger generation, aren’t we better than them? Why can’t they be like us?”

But after learning all these, I think about it very differently – children have needs, and it’s our job as adults to create an environment that meet those needs.

In many cases in this culture, we aren’t meeting those needs. We don’t let them play freely, we imprison them in their homes with little to do except interact via screens. And our school systems largely deadens and bores them. We feed them food that causes energy crashes, contains drugs-like addictives that can make them hyper, and doesn’t contain the nutrients they need. We expose them to brain destructing chemical in the atmosphere.

It’s not a flaw in them, that as a result they are struggling to learn attention, it’s a flaw in the world we built for them.

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