How to deal with that super needy smartphone in your pocket.

Written by Arno Jansen

Part of mastering focus is to reduce your exposure to attention-grabbing stimuli from the world around you.

That’s your responsibility to do.

A racecar driver is not sending an e-mail to his mom, while fighting for pole position. The pilot that flies you to your holiday destination, does not scroll instagram while landing that Boeing in bad weather.

They focus on what matters most and do not allow themselves to be exposed to other distractions while they’re focussed.

So, how to minimize your exposure to the world without becoming a hermit?
We experience our surroundings through our senses of vision, smell, touch, sound, and taste.

Each of those can grab your attention, and thus makes you focus on that:

  • You walk through the city and smell a restaurant kitchen.
  • You hear a busker playing music in the subway
  • A flashing billboard is trying to get your attention.

Even when you’re in an off-grid cabin in the woods, being cold or hot prevents you from staying focussed.

That is why it is important to create an environment that supports focus.

Creating the Right Environment

Why do so many people walk around town with their headphones on? To block out the noise. Why is reading a book so much easier when the tv is off? Because there is nothing else fighting for your visual attention.

Creating the right environment improves your ability to focus.

Over time, you will become better at directing your focus at will. You will find yourself capable of focus in distracting environments. That’s when you know you’re turning your focus into a superpower.

The Smartphone Dilemma

One way to optimize your environment for focus is to control the way your smartphone gets your attention. Our smartphones are amazing tools, providing us with 24/7 internet access and straight lines of communication to billions of people.

It is also a formidable foe when it comes to distractions. One we choose to carry with us in our pockets, voluntarily.

According to research, US smartphone owners get 46 push notifications per day, on average. Teens even get into the hundreds.

But do you know why your smartphone is such a formidable distractor? Because, they’re masters at using multiple senses to grab your attention.

Apple introduced Push Notifications in June of 2009. It allowed app developers to push information to their users, increasing the value their apps provide. Google followed suit in 2010 with a similar system. And any smartphone since, has been capable of deciding when it is time to try and get your attention.

Those notifications attempt to hijack up to 3 of your senses:

  • Vision (the screen lights up with pop-ups)
  • Sound (those ping sounds)
  • Touch (called ‘haptic feedback’, or: vibrations)

Compare that to how emergency vehicles try to get your attention:

  • Vision: Flashing lights
  • Sound: Blaring sirens

All in an attempt to save a life.

Think about that for a second:
2 senses to save a life 👉 3 senses to show you a cat gif.

Switching Off Notifications

A practical solution is to switch off as many notifications as possible. You know this already, I’m sure. But I hope that you now understand better just how important it is to do that. This small change alone can help you regain control over your focus.

Silencing the constant pings and pop-ups, gives your brain the breathing space it needs to concentrate on the present moment. Not even an e-mail from your boss is so important that you need to stop that lovely dinner conversation with a friend.

The Dopamine Trap

But switching off as many notifications as possible, is only half the battle. There’s another insidious aspect to these devices: they’ve trained us to seek a dopamine hit with every interaction.

Even without notifications, many feel a regular urge to reach for your phone to check e-mail or social media. And before you know it, you’ve spent another 30 minutes of your life that you will never get back.

That’s a tough habit to break. But it is possible through awareness. Here’s how:

Learn how much you grab your phone without thinking

To test your own smartphone habits, try this:

  • Move around the icons on your home screen.
  • Place them in a different order than you’re used to. Make especially sure you reposition the email and social media apps.
  • Then, go about your day as usual.

If you find yourself grabbing your phone without thinking about it, chances are you’re now looking at the calculator app instead of Instagram or e-mail. If that’s the case, you now know the extent of the challenge you face.

Consider removing social media, youtube and e-mail apps. You know what apps you’re looking at most often. There are also screen-time reports to tell you what apps you spend the most time with.

Removing those apps from your phone, minimizes your exposure to rabbit holes. Almost all of those apps have a web version you can access at a moment you deliberately allow yourself to do so.

Wrapping up

In a world where all your senses are bombarded with stimuli, it’s your responsibility to protect and nurture your focus.

Understanding how your senses and smartphones disrupt your concentration, is the key to reclaiming control over your focus.

Start by taming those unruly notifications and, more importantly, the urge to constantly check your phone. Regaining your focus is not just about managing external distractions but also recognizing the internal ones you have developed over time.

So, I challenge you: shuffle those icons on your home screen, and watch as you start to master the art of focus in this attention-driven world!

You got this! 🙌

Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

Join my free Focus Finder email course to transform yourself from deeply distracted to fully focused.

    Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

    Join my free Focus Finder course and go from deeply distracted to fully focused.

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