There is something that I have noticed going on for a few years now that is affecting me, and I know it’s affecting others too. I recently read an article that named what it was: Stolen Focus.

Over recent years I have noticed that my attention span has changed. I find it hard to focus on things without jumping to other things. There is one place where I can get it under control without too much effort, and that’s when I’m out in nature. But if I’m at home, I find I have to dig deep and be very disciplined to stay focused on one task. If I don’t, I find myself switching to check my emails, popping on Facebook or Instagram, carrying out some easy admin tasks that don’t require much thought, or anything that will distract me from the thing that demands unbroken attention.

Reflecting back to ten years ago, I didn’t struggle with paying attention in this way. This problem has crept up on me. I have noticed it for a while now, and have been blaming myself. ‘You need to be more disciplined Nicola. Just turn the internet off. Just tell yourself to stop when you start to feel the urge to jump onto something else.’

But I have recently discovered it is a lot more complicated than that. Reading the book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention by Johann Hari, which was published in January this year, has opened to my eyes to the reasons why I have this challenge. Through his book Johann explains how our attention has been stolen from us. There is a design to take our attention away from us, and he shares twelve different ways on how this has been achieved. Reasons range from the design of technology coming out of Silicon Valley through to our diets, children’s play to pollution, exposure to light before bedtime, and not giving time for the mind to wander.

I know I am not alone in struggling to keep my focus. The book is full of examples of people who feel the same, along with some startling statistics. For example, a study in the US found that the average time an adult stays on one task at work is three minutes. Most office workers never get an hour of uninterrupted work in a typical day. Johann writes: “If this goes on for months and years, it scrambles your ability to figure out who you are and what you want. You become lost in your own life.”

This raises these questions in me. If we become lost in our own lives, how can we follow our soul’s calling? How can we find our happiness? How can we lead fulfilling lives?

Learning about the concept of ‘stolen focus’ profoundly impacted me, and I immediately started to address some of my challenges. Over the past month I have created tighter boundaries on when I go online. I take particular notice when I feel the urge to check emails and Facebook and reflect on why this is. I make sure I put aside time each day for reading. I have also made efforts to focus on just one thing at a time until I complete it, rather than jumping between projects.

I have put a lot of effort into this as I believe reclaiming and maintaining our focus is one of the most important aspects of our spiritual work. To follow a spiritual path is to find the way to our true selves and live the life that we came here to live. To follow a spiritual path is to find and follow our soul’s calling. How can we do this if our attention is elsewhere, far away from ourselves?

For this reason, I wanted to bring the awareness of Johann’s research to our community and so ‘stolen focus’ formed the theme of our January Mystery School Shamanic Journey Circle. The outcome from that evening has led me to write this blog. Here I will share a few examples to describe the problem of ‘stolen focus’ as it might be something you can relate to. I will share two of twelve ways our attention has been taken away from us that Johann explains in his book. And I will describe ways to reclaim it back and why this is so important.

Storytime

Johann Hari is a great storyteller. He begins his book by sharing a story about his nephew who as a young boy was obsessed with Elvis. He learned the shaking dance moves and song lyrics and asked his uncle to promise to take him to Graceland in Memphis one day, the huge mansion Elvis had bought for his mother. Johann agreed and didn’t give it a second thought until things started to fall apart for his nephew ten years on.

By his mid-teens, his nephew had dropped out of school. He spent his life at home, not leaving the house, just flicking between screens on his phone, whether it be Facebook, snapchat, youtube or other channels. He started to be very withdrawn. So, at that point, Johann suggested going to visit Graceland. His nephew had completely forgotten about this dream he had as a boy, but it was a trip to America, and so he said yes. Johann explained it was on the condition he didn’t use his phone during the daytime, and booked plane tickets for a two week holiday.

Johann then describes this bizarre scene when they arrived at Graceland. He explains that when you go in through the entrance, you aren’t greeted by any people at all. Instead, you are given an iPad. You then walk around the mansion and listen to the narrative for each room through earphones. As he was walking around, he noticed that no one was looking up from their iPad. The mansion was full of visitors who had travelled from all over the world but they were all looking at Graceland through their electronic devices.

As he walked from room to room, Johann tried to catch other people's attention to shrug his shoulders and say: ‘hey, we are the only ones looking around’. However, the only time people looked up from their iPad was when they were getting their phones out to take selfies. He arrived at the jungle room, Elvis’s favourite room, which is full of plastic plants - the same plants that Elvis had bought. There were a couple of people in there and one of them said to the other: ‘look, this is amazing. Look if you flip between the screens you can see different angles of the room. See, this is what’s behind us and to the side of us!’

Johann turned to the couple and said: ‘there is an old fashioned way of doing this, which is where you look up from your iPad and move your head and see the different angles of the room!’ They ignored him and shuffled off, looking at him like he was a complete madman. Johann went to tell his nephew about what had happened, and found him sitting in the corner of a room with his head underneath his coat. He was on snapchat.

His nephew had been on his phone all week, from the moment the aeroplane had touched down onto the tarmac. At that first point, Johann pulled him up and reminded him of the conditions he had agreed to for the trip. His response was: ‘of course I have to use my phone. I promised not to make any calls on it, but I can’t do without texting and snapchat.’ It was as if he was asking his nephew to hold his breath for a long period of time. He just couldn’t do it.

Through these encounters with his nephew on holiday, Johann recognised that he was seeing the amplification of something he was struggling with himself, which he had noticed in his friends and all the people who were visiting Graceland.

Like Johann, I see this in myself too, and I make a conscious effort to control it, and have been for many years. I also see it everywhere I go: people disengaged with their surroundings as they lose themselves in their phone. I see teenagers crossing the street staring at their phones. I see couples and groups of people in restaurants all looking at their phones rather than talking to each other. And I think it is getting more pronounced every year.

An antidote

When Johann returned from his trip he embarked on an extreme method to try to resolve it himself, which he recognises that he is in an unusual and privileged position to do. He completely cut off from the online world.

To do this, he moved to a small beach town called Provincetown in America, where he lived for three months offline. He explains the lengthy process he went to, to prepare for his trip. For example, he needed to find a laptop that could not connect to the internet so he could write, and he had to find ways to replace all the functions that his phone performed, which included buying an iPod and a Kindle. He describes the disbelief and mild panic displayed by people when he explained what he was planning to do.

During the first three weeks of his experimental new life, he found it difficult to slow down, but then he hit a sweet spot in week four. What he found was that he dropped into a gentler pace of life and was able to think much more clearly. He was able to read. He looked forward to writing and found it easy to get into the flow. He would go for walks, long walks, starting off two to three hours long, getting up to five hours on the beach.

I can relate to Johann’s experience here but on a smaller scale. When I take myself off into the countryside for days at a time camping, I shift into a different state of mind. It might take me a day or so, but I do slow down, and can find I apply myself to tasks far easier than if I had stayed at home.

If I have planning to do, or a course to design, I schedule in a two or three day trip away in my little red van and take myself off to focus. In the winter, outside of camping season, I will take myself off up onto Anglezarke Moor with my laptop if I have writing I need to do. I can find my creative flow out in nature, but indoors it is very hard to access.

Jason and I find that we can drop to an even deeper level when we go on a two week holiday. Our minds slow down a notch or two further, and we start to come up with ideas that we just wouldn’t have thought of during our everyday lives.

I have noticed this for many years, that I need to retreat away in order to achieve a different state of mind. But what I didn’t realise, was that there is something going on to actually steal my ability to focus on the things I want to focus on. Johann realised this during his three-month offline experience. Over time he started to see that there was something much bigger going on for him. He realised that we are now living in what he calls a ‘stolen focus culture’.

Johann embarked on a massive research process to explore this further when he returned from his three-month retreat. He interviewed 250 experts in this field across the world, namely academic researchers and professors, and reviewed 400 papers. He presents his findings in his book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention. It is an excellent book, and I thoroughly recommend reading it.

Early in Johann’s research, as he was investigating the validity of researching why we seem to have lost our sense of focus and how we can get it back, he interviewed one of the world's experts in willpower and self-discipline. Professor Roy Baumeister at the University of Queensland in Australia has been studying this science for more than thirty years. During their conversation, Professor Baumeister was interested that Johann had come to speak with him about this, and shared his own personal challenges:

“I am feeling like my control over my attention is weaker than it used to be. I used to be able to sit for hours, reading and writing, but now it seems like my mind jumps around a lot more. When I start to feel bad, I play a video game on my phone and then that got to be fun. I can see that I am not sustaining concentration in perhaps the way I used to. I am just sort of giving in to it and will start to feel bad.”

This is the experience of an expert in willpower who has written a book entitled 'Willpower'. If Professor Baumeister is struggling, doesn’t that say something about what we are up against? This is a topic that we can’t afford to pass by.

Stolen by design

After reading the book, I reflected on attention challenges that I have. It highlighted to me the things that I am already doing to help, and that I have been working on this for over two decades now. This includes not reading newspapers, watching television, listening to the radio, limiting the time I spend on social media and trying to just check my emails at set times. But even with this awareness and taking all these steps, my ability to pay attention is still waning. I am reading less than I was five years ago. And I notice that left unchecked I can easily slip into endlessly scrolling through social media and checking my emails regularly throughout the day to avoid focusing on other tasks. It is really hard to address.

Since finishing Stolen Focus, I have managed to read five books, which I am really pleased about. I am also noticing how often I get distracted when I am completing tasks that I need to focus on. A small victory, but I can see how easy it is to slip back into old patterns.

Here are some words Johann shares in his book about his findings:

“I came to believe that we have profoundly misunderstood what is actually happening to our attention. For years, whenever I couldn’t focus, I would angrily blame myself. I would say: 'you are lazy and undisciplined'. Or I would blame my phone and rage against it. But I learned there was something much deeper than personal failure or a single new invention happening here.
I found strong evidence that our collapsing ability to pay attention is not primarily a personal failing on my part, or your part, or your kids part. This is being done to us all. It is being done by very powerful forces. Those forces include Big Tech, but they also go way beyond them. This is a systemic problem. The truth is that you are living in a system that is pouring acid on your attention every day, and then you are being told to blame yourself and to fiddle with your own habits while the world’s attention burns.”

There is a grand design to steal our attention away from ourselves.

Learning this has highlighted even more to me how important the Earth-based spiritual practice is. This includes getting out in nature, quietening the mind, attuning to the natural world and the messages there for us, dropping into a different state so we can tune our brains into a different frequency: the spirit realm. This is not a big time commitment, and the rewards are huge. But it also helps explain how so many people find it hard to have the discipline to do this with all the other orchestrated demands on their attention.

Earlier I mentioned that Johann speaks of twelve different ways in which our attention is being stolen from us by design. I would love to speak of each of them here, as they all strike a chord with me, but each is worthy of its own blog. The two I have chosen to write about today are the myth that we can multitask and the controlling power of the tech companies.

Multitasking myth

I have shared how I can drop into a different state of mind and can think more clearly when I take myself out into nature. Johann also experienced this himself when he took long walks along the beach. On returning from his three-month retreat, one of the things he reflected on was why, culturally we aren’t trying to slow things down to a pace where people can think more clearly. His searching for an answer to this question led him to meet with one of the world’s top neuroscientists, Professor Earl Miller, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Professor Miller explained that there is one core fact about brains and how they function that everyone should know. He said:

“Your brain can only produce one or two thoughts in your mind at once. That’s it. We’re very single-minded. We have very limited cognitive capacity. This is because of the fundamental structure of the brain, and it is not going to change. But rather than acknowledge this, we invented a myth. The myth is that we can actually think about three, five, ten things at the same time.”

Multitasking was a word I was familiar with when I worked in my career as a sustainability manager for large businesses. It was the ability to jump from one task to another and seemingly do several things simultaneously. I was proud that I could do it as it was an attribute employers were looking for.

Over the years since leaving that world and working for myself, I have found that I am far more effective when I focus on just one thing at a time. So, I could relate to Johann’s section in his book about the multitask delusion. When we are multitasking, what we are doing is rapidly jumping back and forth between tasks. This is not good for our minds. A research study found that technological distractions such as receiving emails and calls caused a drop in IQ of ten points.

Focusing on one thing at a time allows us to be creative, whereas jumping quickly from one thing to another stops that creative ability. To do things well, you need to focus on one thing at a time. This is not happening in our culture anymore. Johann asked Professor Miller that given what we know about the brain, was it fair to conclude that attention problems today really are worse than at some points in the past. He replied that he “believes we have created in our culture ‘a perfect storm’ of cognitive degradation, as a result of distraction.”

We are living in a perfect storm that is degrading our capacity to think.

Professor Miller then goes on to explain that it isn’t all bad news, as it is possible to retrain our brains and that we can do this by starting today. First, take steps to remove the distractions. Then, if you are struggling to focus, try doing just one task for ten minutes. Then another ten minutes. Over time your brain will strengthen the neural connections required for that behaviour. It won’t take long before you can increase this to fifteen minutes and then half an hour. The key is to practice, little by little.

I find this so encouraging: to have a problem named like this but also the solution explained that really is quite simple. We give ourselves the space we need to retrain our brains once again.

Time out in nature gives me this space.

One of the activities we teach in our Mystery School is to go and sit in nature, without any distractions for one hour. This is alone, without a dog, without a book to read or a journal to write in. Just to go and sit and be present. It is a fascinating exercise and one that is met with different reactions. Some people love the idea. Some people find that a conversation immediately enters their minds when we suggest it. Thoughts such as: ‘I haven’t got time for that. What is the point? I can’t do that.’ Some people have safety concerns, in which case we suggest just doing this in your garden or back yard or finding a park where they do feel safe.

Sitting out in nature for one hour can be harder to do than it might sound. However, whatever arises in this activity shines a light on a deeper issue going on inside. When I do this, I know I have the temptation to distract myself by taking out my journal or checking online for something. Reading the conversation between Johann and Professor Miller has helped me appreciate how important this practice is. To help retrain our brains, we need to separate ourselves for increasing periods of time from the sources of our distraction.

Controlling power

The second reason behind our attention being stolen that I would like to share here in this blog is the controlling power of the tech companies. Maybe I have chosen to write about this one because of my own experience working inside the corporations, and seeing first-hand how big businesses operate. Perhaps it is because of my worry about the level of control that the corporations have over us, when their primary and often only interest is to make money at the detriment to the health and wellbeing of people and the Earth.

To explain the controlling power the tech companies have over us, please bear with me as I want to cover some science that Johann talks about in his book. I want to take us back seventy years to a piece of research undertaken in the 1950’s by a Harvard professor named Skinner. Skinner became an intellectual celebrity by discovering something strange. He found that it is possible, with relative ease, to change an animal's behaviour and what it is choosing to pay attention to. Put differently, you can control an animal’s focus as if it were a robot being programmed to obey your requests.

Let's take for example, a pigeon. If you keep a pigeon in a cage and don’t give it any food, it will go hungry. Then introduce a bird feeder where a button is pressed to release food for the pigeon to eat. Then wait for the pigeon to do a particular movement, such as lifting its wing. When it makes that movement, you press a button and give it some seed. When it does the same movement again, lifting its wing up, you press the button and it gets more seed. It doesn’t take very long for the pigeon to quickly learn that if it wants seed, all it needs to do is lift its wing and get the seed. So, if you manipulate it correctly, it will keep on lifting its wing up and that becomes its dominant movement.

Skinner tested this to see how far he could take it. He found that you can teach a pigeon to play ping pong, and a rabbit to pick up coins and put them in a piggy bank. Skinner believed the human mind is the same, it can be reprogrammed in any way.

Skinners ideas went out of favour for quite a while, but they were then picked up by the tech companies in Silicon Valley. Because if you can control the minds of the people, then that equals power. You have power as you can control what people think, how they spend their time, what they look at and what they buy.

As an example, the designers of Instagram asked – if we reinforce our users for taking selfies – if we give them hearts and likes – will they start to do it obsessively just like the pigeon will obsessively hold out its wing for seed? They took Skinner’s core techniques and applied them to a billion people.

Johann describes a conversation he had with a former Google strategist he met, James Williams, who is a mole if you like, on the inside of one of the major tech companies. James became disillusioned with their practices and left and speaks openly of his experiences there. This is what Johann says about James’s experience:

“Every day, the company he (James Williams) worked for – from its base in Googleplex in Palo Alto, was shaping and reshaping how 1 billion people navigated their way through the world: what they got to see, and what they didn’t. James told one audience later, ‘I want you to imagine walking into a room, a control room with a bunch of people, a hundred people, hunched over desks with little dials, and that control room will shape the thoughts and feelings of a billion people. This might sound like science fiction, but this actually exists right now, today. I know as I used to work in one of those control rooms.’
The engineers were always looking for new ways to suck eyeballs into their programme and keep them there. Day after day, he would watch as engineers proposed more interruptions to people's lives – more vibrations, more alerts, more tricks and they would be congratulated.”

It is eye-opening stuff isn’t it, reading it in black and white and hearing an insider experience? This isn’t new information to me. I was aware that this was happening. I just didn’t realise the extent that it was happening, and how I am unconsciously responding to it. I didn’t realise the extent to how it was working on me.

Why this matters

I would like to finish by sharing some of the reasons why this matters so much. I think you probably know intuitively what I am about to say.

Johann summarises three crucial reasons why this issue of stolen focus needs to be addressed:

  1. “A life full of distractions is at an individual level a life diminished. When you are unable to pay sustained attention, you can’t achieve the things you want to achieve.
  2. Stolen focus is causing crisis in our whole society. Democracy requires the ability of a population to pay attention for long enough to identify real problems, distinguish them from fantasies, come up with solutions and hold their leaders accountable if they fail to deliver on them. We lose our ability to have a fully functioning society if we lose that. People who can’t focus will be more drawn to simplistic authoritarian solutions, and less likely to see clearly when they fail.
  3. The third reason is the most hopeful. If we understand what is happening we can begin to change it.”

So, what positive things will happen in our lives when we do reclaim back our attention?

Well, reclaiming our attention will mean reclaiming the ability to focus on immediate actions like finishing a book, writing in our journal, taking a walk, going on a shamanic journey, spending quality time with our family, arranging to meet up with friends. Our lives will be enriched with the things that we want to do, and that bring us happiness.

Reclaiming our attention will also enable us to focus on longer-term goals and keep sight of where we are heading. These are projects that will take sustained focus over a period of time such as writing a book or creating a business.

And reclaiming our attention makes it possible for us to know what our long term goals are in the first place. If we are not focusing on ourselves, how will we know that we want to write that book? Set up that business? Without space to reflect and think clearly, it’s not possible to figure out these things.

The Earth-based spiritual path is one route to reclaiming our attention. Jason and I created The Way of the Buzzard as a place where like-minded people could come together and practice the old spiritual ways of our land. At the time I don’t think either of us realised the significance of this as we progress into the twenty first century.

Earth-based spirituality gives you the tools to find your way back home, away from the noise and distractions of the modern world that are designed to pull you away from what is important in life. Distractions tempt you back to screens where you are shown information that someone else chooses for you to see. Now more than ever, we need to find our way home. We need to reclaim our focus in the best way we can. It is not going to be easy. It is likely to be a life-long task for many. It might not even be entirely possible now we are living in the digital age. But through awareness, we can begin to take action.

And where better to seek advice on what action to take than our spirit guides and nature? To move outside of our conscious minds and find ways to reclaim our focus. This is the way of the buzzard.

Nature time brings us back home. I spend a lot of my time out in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors. I lift my gaze to watch the courtship dance of the kestrels or the silent hover of the barn owl as it hunts across the dried grasses. I walk in the company of robins and wrens, hearing their early spring songs. I watch the sway of the first spring flowers as they rock back and forth in the wind. I take delight at seeing the first buds blossom in the trees, and leaves emerge one by one through each species in the woodlands and hedgerows. I pay attention to the subtle changes through each season and take time to mark each turn in the wheel of the year, spring to summer, autumn to winter.

As I do this, I give myself the space for my mind to wander. I remove myself from distractions and give my brain time to make new connections, come up with fresh ideas, and reflect on where I am going in life. When I need answers to specific questions, I can journey to the Otherworld and meet with my spirit guides to get a different perspective. I can do all of this to help me find my way out of the distracting world of the twenty-first century that we live in.

Stolen focus has shown me that after all these years of awareness, I still have ongoing challenges around attention. It is a relief in one sense to find out that there is a grand design underway to steal our attention and that it isn’t just me becoming less disciplined. It is also a relief to know that there are things that I can do to retrain my brain and that I have already found my way to them naturally.

This new awareness around stolen focus though does lead me to worry even more about where this is all going in our world. But, the spiritual path is about awakening to what is wrong about our world and taking steps to change what we can, which always begins with changing ourselves. This feels empowering, maverick even. I know I am in good company working to reclaim my focus, as I know it is something that many people in our community are also aware of and working on too. As you have made it to the end of my blog, I suspect that you are one of these people. I am delighted to be sharing this adventure with you.

I would love to hear your thoughts about what has been discussed here. So, do write a comment in the box below if you are drawn to.


Further resources

If you have enjoyed this blog, I highly recommend reading Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention by Johann Hari.

If you are a member of our Mystery School and didn’t make it live to our January Shamanic Journey Circle, then do see try to watch the replay and go on the shamanic journey we lead to ask the question: ‘What is getting in the way of my attention’. Members can access the recording to ‘Reclaim Your Attention’ via this link.

And if you aren’t a member of our Mystery School, and are interested in learning some of the techniques that we teach do check out our free course in Shamanism and Shamanic Journeying if you haven’t done so already, which you can access via this link.

You can also find out about our Mystery School here to see if it is something that you might like to be a part of.

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  1. Thankyou, this article really struck a chord with me. For some time now I have been "going on retreat" in my own home for a weekend periodically. I switch off all electronic devices and do not read newspapers. I found this recharged my batteries in quite a deep profound way. I am a spiritual and reiki healer and am always searching for techniques to help my clients relax . Many complain of a monkey mi d and an inability to focus or to enjoy a good night's sleep. I did quite a lot of research myself and my first action was to remove the Facebook app from my phone so that I could only access it on my laptop. This made a fantastic difference and I found I was no longer drawn to the notifications. After a month I deactivated from it all. I have never been on Instagram or Twitter. My meditation and sleep pattern have improved gradually but my feeling of connection with nature has certainly deepened. Although I live in Derby city centre I have a large allotment where I spend time alone with a surprising amount of native fauna, foxes, hedgehogs squirrels and frogs visit regularly, as well as birds and insects. I garden organically using companion planting to work with nature as closely as I can. I would urge anyone to at least try to deactivate and sit in nature. The results are profound and will surprise even the most cynical amongst us. Please continue your good work as it is surely needed in this over busy, over noisy world of ours. Wendy

    1. It is really good to hear your story here Wendy, thank you for sharing. Yes, nature rests us doesn’t it. Your allotment sounds just glorious. I am with you on the notifications – I have never actually turned mine on! Taking the Facebook app off the phone is a great idea. Something I have considered – it is great to hear it has worked so well for you doing this.

  2. This blog struck a chord with me. I have found an intense focus through meditation. Simply being able to focus through meditation is wonderful. I have been taught to recognise stray thoughts, acknowledge them and dismiss them as they drift by. This is not always easy to achieve but the visualisation of a virtuous object within the meditation helps. It has become easier to focus on meditations and also to focus on everyday tasks. At the moment I am only able to partake in guided meditations. However, this does nothing to detract from the experience of focusing.

    I'm very much looking forward to experiencing the June weekend with you in the Dales.

    I'm a retired teacher who has started a new life as a ceramic artist.

    1. Hello Anton. I have loved reading your story here. That is great to hear you have found meditation so helpful. We are really looking forward to sharing the Solstice weekend with you too 🙂

  3. HI Nicola,
    Thank you for this blog, it is me exactly. I drift from one thing to another, remembering nothing, and I haven't read a book since last year. My head is so full of 'junk' that it sometimes feels muzzy & so muddled. even in the night ! It has crept into our lives in such a way, we haven't realised what has happened to us. :'(

    This resonates so much with me that when I read that there was a way back, I cried. I need to get out again, spend time in nature more; I need to read books more; I need to spend a LOT less time on facebook scrolling mindlessly etc. I need to mediate & journey more.

    One thing that I have started to do is 'unsubscribe' from lots of e-mails that I do not need and that waste time.
    Over the next week or so I will clear them out to the necessary ones and also only allow certain time for checking e-mails etc. Setting limits 🙂
    I do need to spend more time in the Mystery school too, but only 1 thing at a time.

    I think that this is a life saver, saving my sanity. Thank you so much xxx

  4. Thank you so much for this article, what a great read. I am hugely aware of the attention grabbing screen culture, and dashing from one thing to the next. I really believe it is taking so much physical connection away from our lives. This is really evident in my teens who have multiple ’online’ friends, yet I’m told it is their reality now, it’s where we are as a society. How can that be right? My heart aches when I ponder on it. Shall be getting this book and reading with interest. Meanwhile, I shall continue to ‘office’ in nature and connect to that www. Once a day to send and receive. 🙏🏼

    1. Thanks for your note here Lu and your reflections. I feel lucky that I few updates without screens and the internet. It must be tough being a teenager in this world and a whole different way of connecting.

  5. A friend forwarded this post to me as this is the journey I have been on for some time now.

    It's so comforting to know others are exploring the ways our attention is being stolen. Sometimes it can feel lonely, living in a world where you're the only one not staring at a phone screen in a cafe. (One of my things is to not ever have a smartphone. When I switch my computer and Internet on I know I am consciously choosing to go online.) Sometimes observing how the world is changing can feel so depressing, so thank you for making me feel part of something that is pushing back.

    Your little red van nestled in the green seems like the perfect antidote to a world that is far too distracted by the manufactured.

    1. Thanks for your note here Alice. Yes, I love my time in my little red van. Especially when I have no reception 🙂 I am so pleased to hear you enjoyed my blog. It it interesting to hear you haven’t got a smart phone. I was contemplating the same yesterday. I also make a point of not looking at my phone when I am in a cafe, pub or restaurant. It is lovely to be in touch.

  6. Thanks Nicola for sharing this work – I have been aware of being increasingly less focussed, particularly during lockdowns etc where my work and life in general lost its routine and structure. I really enjoyed the book, made more interesting as my hubby and I spent some time in “P-town” where Johann did his retreat some years ago. We are reminded of this time by the rather eclectic cast iron bat tea light holder which is on our mantle shelf which we got in a rather quirky antique store there. Bat – self mastery no coincidence and a most interesting connection. Pops up for me as a guide regularly in journeys and synchronicities.
    Brilliant work.

    1. What an amazing synchronicity – Bat energy is perfect for working with this challenge: Self Mastery! Isn’t it amazing how all this works. I think lockdowns amplified the problem. Johann speaks in his book though about how lockdown actually brought the issue to our attention which I think is really interesting. If things had been left to unfold slower, then we might not have become aware of what is going on here – it would have sneaked up on us over a decade without us noticing.

  7. I am interested in this topic too. Sometimes when I catch myself having wasted time scrolling , I feel not only cross with myself and frustrated at the waste of time, but also despondent that I seem unable to 'snap out of it'. We see reports of increasing concerns over the rise in mental health issues, and I wonder to what extent this issue is impacting the nation's mental health?.

  8. Please keep giving us a nudge about this! It really needs to be a guiding principle for us all.
    The wider implications that you explore here are truly astounding.
    For me, wearing my canine behaviour consultancy hat on, taking it back to Skinner’s experiments makes it almost laughable. I click (a clicking device or with my tongue) and treat to reward behaviour I want in a dog, which ultimately shapes his responses.
    Now every time I get a notification from social media I can now visualise it as my piece of sausage rewarding me for the desired behaviour.
    Before long, we are back to Pavlov and his bells – instead of my mouth watering at the anticipation of dinner, I get that jittery excitement that makes me want to check my phone every couple of minutes.

    1. Your note here about relating social media rewards to sausages has made me smile 🙂 I will certainly think about how to give nudges to see how we are all doing with this 🙂

  9. What a great read.. thank you . I found myself scrolling between clients when I could finish reading my book or just relax and meditate until my next client. So glad this blog came to my attention. I will read it again and implement some of the strategies. Thanks again Nicola.

  10. Thank you so much for this Nicola, a really helpful article to which I can totally relate – I've noticed how I go onto Facebook to cheer myself up and then scroll endlessly as if looking for something that I don't quite find and feeling rather appalled that I'm wasting my life doing this! I'm going to order the book and start to turn this around. Thank you again!

    1. Great to hear you have found the blog helpful Mandy. I recon you will really enjoy the book and it will help shed some more light on the issues we are all facing and help with turning it around, as you say.

  11. I found this article very interesting, I can see and relate to what you have said , it is good to know that other people are finding the same thing as myself , I will take a serious look at how I spend my time, it is so easy to get distracted and I don’t like it.

    1. Thanks for your note Don, it is good to know isn’t it. Before reading Johann’s book I thought it was just a problem I was having, and I couldn’t even name it. So delighted you found my blog interesting.

  12. Brilliant article Nicola that is addressing a very important issue in our culture and society and effects the vast majority of us. I too have been concerned at my lack of ability to focus too and worried about my addiction to social media and emails. I've been beating my self up recently at my inability to even focus on reading a book and this has all got worse since lockdown. Thanks for this and its good to know this isnt for me to beat my self up about but is by design. As a rebel now I am more aware of what is being done to us as an act of rebellion I shall be very consious of their attention stealing. Nature is good and this is the best time for me to focus too .. lot so love x

    1. Hi Edwina, it is really good to hear your experience. So, you are struggling with this too! It was such a relief to read Johann’s book and firstly have it named and secondly realise it wasn’t just me. And thirdly, to see it had happened by design. Yes, I agree, it feels maverick now to read a book a week and be in nature every day!

  13. Wow Nicola this blog is just amazing!! It answers so many questions I've been questioning without knowing where to turn. You have planted a seed for action and realisation. Thankyou.

    1. Brilliant to hear Fiona, thank you. I didn’t intend for this blog to be so long – my idea was half the length so I could keep peoples attention! So that is good to hear 🙂

  14. Thank you Nicola. An excellent blog. I am half way through the book and am finding it fascinating

    I didn’t realise how often I looked at the phone.

    Whilst I was reading it on Monday a tree crashed on to my neighbours car and bringing my phone line down with it. As a consequence I haven’t had internet until today … I had to laugh was this divine intervention? Teaching me how to be without internet and I don’t get 4G as it is a bad reception by my house

    I am looking forward to reading the rest of it and see if I can make some changes

    1. Divine intervention indeed Linda! Isn’t that interesting that that happened. I know when Jason and I find a campsite without internet connection, I have mixed feelings. Great to disconnect, but it does raise the question when we arrive – will be be OK to be offline for this holiday! That is great you are reading Johann Hari’s book – it is fascinating isn’t it.I found it hard to decide which track to take with is – I wanted to write about it all!!

  15. Thank you Nicola. Your blog is very relevant, and timely. I began thinking – gosh this is a long blog , maybe I'll read it later … then I smiled to myself and realised this is exactly why I need to read it to the end! So I did.
    Oh my goodness, I relate to so much of it. It made me realise how many books I've bought with the intention of reading, I may start a couple of them, then get distracted. It's about a year since I read a book, but I'm always scanning social media! Your blog has really highlighted this issue. It helps to know I'm not the only one, and it also reminds me of what I need to do to get back to my centre. I also realise it takes self discipline, and determination- so my intention is to focus on one thing at a time, and give my full attention to it.
    Thank you Nicola, for sharing this with us.

    1. I can completely relate to your experience here Alexandra! I thought the same when I read the initial press release for Johann Hari’s book – gosh this is a long read (it took me 20 minutes to read and I was chuffed I had made it to the end!). Since then I have read book a week, more or less. I am delighted that this blog has been helpful, thank you for your note here 🙂

  16. Thank you for a really ..stop what you are doing, and make changes moment !! Digital detox is a cleansing that definitely works. Collective consciousness can be toxic and becomes the law of attraction. I read a book called Mutant Message Down Under many years ago now by Marlo Morgan and based on a true story. This book possibly has some similarities that you may find interesting.
    I read somewhere about how music has changed over the years and what young music lovers expect when they go to listen to a new track. Forget the long intro that then would build into the main lyrics and chorus. They want it full on from the first couple of seconds and this purely is because they don't have the attention span or patience to wait for it to build. Stolen Focus is something we can all claim back and I have just placed and order for this book.
    Thank you for bringing this into focus and a fantastic Blog.
    Jewels (Lancashire )

    1. Some of my favourite musics tracks have really long intros. I hadn’t realised that was the expectation of young people nowadays. I am so delighted you enjoyed my blog and had a ‘make changes moment’. Thanks for that book recommendation – I will take a look. Now I am reading a book a week, receiving book recommendations isn’t daunting any more, as I have a handle on my reading pile now 🙂

  17. Well, Nicola, quite a blog! As usual, it is meaty reading. I did miss the January Shamanic Journey so I will look at the recording. Like you say, I think many of us are already aware of this idea of 'stolen focus' even if we haven't named it as such. Up until 4 years' ago, I refrained from getting involved in social media as I knew it would be a time stealer. Then I joined the Mystery School which has a FB group so I joined that. The following year, someone in one of the groups I belong to, set up a WA group so I joined that. Some time after that, I was taken ill whilst abroad and during the time I was in hospital, that WA group, in particular, but also the Mystery School, were life savers. This was over three years' ago and during the first of those years, my health was pretty bad so I became more and more reliant on social media and TV to have a feeling of being involved in life. Then came the pandemic which forced us all to stay at home and it assumed even more importance by adding in Zoom, Teams and other platforms. I also started watching the news and reading newspapers, something I had not done for years. Now, I just seem to spend my whole time on social media, emails, You Tube, etc. although I do still try to read books but, as you so rightly point out, concentration is not there to the extent it should be. The problem is that there is so much in the online world to be interested in but I can see that it is certainly an addiction as I am finding it difficult to extract myself from the many online groups and things I now subscribe to and I think I will have to be ruthless in doing this before it swallows me whole. My partner does not engage in the world of technology at all, spends the majority of his time out in nature, reads books but does not read newspapers or watch the news but still does seem to have a grasp of what it going on in the world. I don't go out with him very much these days as he walks for miles and I am not able to do that any longer although I do try to get out for shorter walks. You have certainly touched a nerve in me by this blog and I am certain I won't be the only one so thank you for writing so eloquently about it and holding up a mirror to this stealing of our time and focus.

    1. Hello Jill, I have found it fascinating to read your reflections here, and the step by step story of how things have changed for you over the last four years. I can see similarities for me in reading your words. Thank you. During the Circle we led guided journey to ask how to reclaim our attention, so that will hopefully yield useful insights on what your next steps are to readdress the balance.

    2. Your comment really resonates with me as I’ve spent many months in hospital in the past year. Here’s to us rebalancing health wise and focus wise!

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