Not so long ago, information was not readily available and when we needed it, we went to a library with a clear search for that knowledge.
We got to work focused, and after a while we left the library with the information we were looking for.
But nowadays who doesn’t have the experience of going on your phone or laptop to look up something – stopping after a long wandering, continuing with other activities – only to realize that you totally forgot to look up what you were planning to do in the first place.
Because in this day and age we have anything but a shortage of information.
We are suffering from permanent information inflation. Everything is always within reach.
On the other hand, we have an attention deficit because we are bombarded from all sides with digital dopamine rains and our brain has now been conditioned to switch quickly and try to divide attention.
Destructive for: creativity, efficiency and long-term happiness – after our shot. And also, for the relationship with the person in our immediate environment.
Attention has become scarce and expensive, information abundant and cheap.
The amount of information is unlimited and increases every day through countless channels. Our attention is related to our available time, and therefore unfortunately has a limitation.
There simply isn’t more attention available.
The continuously fragmented attention makes us restless, dull, and leads to mental complaints, even diseases.
This is becoming increasingly difficult. The consumed information shows us that we can achieve anything, often without showing the time-consuming path that lies hidden behind the facade of the demonstrated success.
But our time remains very limited, and with it our attention.
We will have to make conscious choices. We can’t do everything.
We are becoming increasingly afraid of making the wrong decision, because we simply do not know what to choose – even though we are expected to – all because expectations are unrealistically high. Not least from ourselves.
We are expected to know our life’s mission, preferably as young as possible. And for the rest of our lives.
But aren’t we constantly changing ourselves? So also, our needs and what suits us. A jacket that felt good and like a glove ten years ago, no longer has to. If the coat no longer fits us, we may have simply outgrown it.
Time to re-evaluate our desires and therefore also our ‘own legend’. The legend of this moment. At this stage of our lives.
For a successful and happy life, it is important to regain control of our attention. So that, just like in the offline era, we can again focus on what we really find important at that moment.
From ourselves, not because it is expected, or because we are going to share it with the online outside world. The ‘friends’, the followers.
But then we must be able to feel without numbness and be connected to ourselves. As if we go to the offline library – with our targeted search – without distracting notifications, always less than an arm’s length away.
Because those who can use a long-term horizon will lead an easier and more fulfilled life. Those who do not reach beyond the short term, with the quick pleasure, quick fixes and distractions of today, will encounter many difficulties and frustration on their road.
For this it is crucial to start thinking ‘backwards’. What do we want to spend our precious and limited attention on? What really gives us a deep sense of satisfaction afterwards?
We then apply that to today’s and every day’s life. By developing new habits and routines that serve us in the longer term.
The Last Hour Experience makes this concrete for you.
Begin with the end in mind.
Always being online and accessible has fatal consequences for our productivity and health, says Theo Compernolle. The Flemish professor has been fighting for years for better use of smartphones in the workplace and in schools. He sees that many people want to change, but don’t know how. “It is shocking to see how little knowledge people have of how their brain works.”
A few minutes into the interview when Theo Compernolle apologizes. “I have to grab this,” he points to his phone. Half a minute later he reports again. “Where was I in my story again? See, that’s multitasking. I immediately lost the thread.”
Doing two things at the same time, always being available. These are precisely the things that the neuropsychiatrist and best-selling author has been warning about for years. Years ago, he became so alarmed after reading studies about the problem that he made it his mission to warn managers, directors and teams about it.
Since then, he has given hundreds of lectures, presentations and workshops at companies and schools. He also notices from his book sales that many people struggle with this. Although the titles Stress, Friend or Foe and Unleash Your Brain were released almost ten years ago, new editions are still being added.
The core of the matter still stands, Compernolle notes. “Everything we do is interrupted by apps, e-mails and other messages. That’s annoying at work, because you make more mistakes and it takes more time to do the same thing. But it also happens with things that you should enjoy to the fullest. For example, people go out for dinner or out with friends and never pay their full attention. There is even an increasing number of people who allow themselves to be interrupted during sex. We are no longer in charge of our attention. And that keeps us from being efficient, creative and happy.”
Research shows that Dutch people are interrupted at least eighty times every day by an app, e-mail or other message. In total we waste at least three hours a day. The main culprit is social media, or as Compernolle persistently calls them: ‘antisocial media’. “It is incredibly mean what they do to get our attention. They know everything about psychology, neurology and brain sciences. Every time you click, scroll or swipe, you give that precious resource that is attention to tech companies that earn billions from it.”
To understand what exactly happens, it is important to know how the brain works. “Think of it as a beautiful large network of 150 billion cells that are all connected to each other. The most beautiful part is the thinking brain. There we think in words, an animal cannot do that. This allows us to be creative, write, draw or make music and allows us to pay long-term attention to one subject. There is no limit, except that we can only do one thing at a time.”
That brain is constantly distracted, and that is due to another part of our brain: the reflex brain. “That is the brain that our ancestors already needed on the savannah. It allows you to respond to danger before your thinking brain even realizes anything. So, life-saving. But it’s also easy to distract. That brain doesn’t see the difference between a sabre-tooth tiger that you have to jump away from or an app on your phone while driving.”
Always being connected and being guided by that reflex brain is ‘horribly inefficient’, according to Compernolle. “People become less creative, remember less and make stupid mistakes. A complicated task can sometimes take up to four times as long. Our brain simply cannot multitask.”
In some places it can even lead to life-threatening situations. “If you work in a financial department and you make a mistake with one more or less zero, that’s a shame. But someone in a factory who gets distracted can lose his finger, his hand or even his life.”
It is age-old knowledge, but the neuropsychiatrist sees with great frustration that managers and directors know ‘shockingly little’ about this. “I have worked with CEOs who manage multinationals with tens of thousands of employees. But they had no idea how the brain works and how to do your job properly and safely.”
There are also quite a few misunderstandings, he notices. Many people think that they cannot afford to be unreachable. “These are excuses from addicts,” Compernolle sighs. “I’ve heard all the excuses a thousand times. People often think they are indispensable. While there are plenty of solutions.”
For example, he recommends buying an old Nokia phone that people should only call if it is urgent. This way you remain accessible, but without the temptation of the internet. “There are dozens of solutions. The good news is: attention works like muscle and can be trained. Put your phone away for an hour. That can already help.”
Source: Dagblad van het Noorden, 4th of January 2024 (translated from Dutch)