“That was really tiring!” was the comment of a client after working for an hour on a Prerequisite Tree, one of the Thinking Process Tools from the Theory of Constraints. Work makes us tired in many ways and fatigue is inevitable. What’s important is the results achieved through what makes us tired.
Our minds are engaged at work all the time, but to what end? It’s a sad fact that we tend not to use our brains as productively as we could. We are continuously distracted and that makes deep focus very challenging. Distraction is perhaps the number one enemy today, as highlighted in the disturbing article, ‘Our Minds Can Be Hijacked‘. This long read presents the concerns of several people who were involved in the creation of the very mechanisms that distract us on the internet and that they themselves have come to recognize as harmful. One of these people is Justin Rosenstein who developed the Facebook “like” button.
There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention”, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”
Technology and choice
The problem goes beyond simple distraction and could be a threat to the way we operate our democracies:
Drawing a straight line between addiction to social media and political earthquakes like Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, they contend that digital forces have completely upended the political system and, left unchecked, could even render democracy as we know it obsolete.
Rosenstein and others like him are restricting their use of addictive technologies. The article goes on to suggest that technology is interfering with something as fundamental as our free will.
According to Tristan Harris, a 33-year-old former Google employee turned vocal critic of the tech industry. “All of us are jacked into this system,” he says. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
We are distracted by continuous stimulation from devices, emails, notifications of all sorts. We are distracted by endless meetings that make little sense. We are distracted by incorrectly designed interdependencies that make us lose energy and focus towards the goal. This is a real problem, because without deep focus we can’t produce the kind of quality analysis we need to guide our decisions and actions in a meaningful way. We will keep deciding and acting, but the end results could be disappointing, even quite the opposite to what we intended.
An antidote to distraction
Adopting a consolidated method for focus can be an effective antidote to distraction. Working with the cycle of Thinking Process Tools takes us through critical phases of cognitive shift, from gaining a clear understanding of a current situation of blockage, through defining a realistic goal and identifying all the necessary steps to transition from our current reality towards a more desirable, future reality. Focus becomes heightened through the availability of a clear and shared map of change. The tools not only provide the analysis and the path, they also build and reinforce our ability to think systemically. It requires effort and, for many, an unprecedented amount of concentration, but the rewards pay off.
Most importantly, the tools give us back our ability to choose. They enable self-determination. By focusing our attention on what requires change, creating a goal and working to make that change happen, we affirm our right to participate in shaping the world. Let’s not be mindlessly distracted into other people’s agendas and remember that we always have a choice.
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint that has sold in over 20 countries. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.