ENDANGERED MINDS – Holly Foster Media


The ability to concentrate and focus are two skills educators strive to help us cultivate during our developmental years. Two verbs from the same species. They are highly coveted and necessary to perform valuable work. And yet, they seem to be disappearing.

The mental skills we once took for granted are threatened by the tools and apps that dwell in our high-tech environment. Their push notifications beckon to us, stealing our focus and robbing us of our ability to concentrate. One might say these skills are on the endangered list. Here are three things you can do to save them from extinction in your life.

1. Limit your time on social media.

Time is a finite resource. It’s a worthwhile exercise to evaluate how you spend your time and what you spend it on. Many of us spend what little discretionary time we have on social media.

In an address at Stanford University, Chamath Palihapitiya (former Facebook Vice President of User Experience) warns graduate business students of the addictive nature of social media. He hasn’t been an active social media user for years.

“People need to hard break from some of these tools … the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
– Chamath Palihapitiya, former Facebook VP of User Experience

Deep Work author Cal Newport feels so strongly about it that he suggests quitting social media, or at least controlling how much we use it. He challenges his readers to isolate themselves from it for thirty days, and then ask themselves two pivotal questions: “Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service? Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?” (2016, p. 205).

His advice? Quit social media if your answer to both questions is “no.” If yes, return. If it’s unclear, it’s up to you, but he encourages his readers to “lean toward quitting” (Newport, 2016, p. 205). Why? It takes away from your ability to spend time doing deep work, which delivers greater value in exchange for your limited time.

Clive Thompson writes “… the true danger of social media is … the problem of time – and becoming stuck in the present.” He concludes by saying “A culture that is stuck in the present is one that can’t solve big problems” (2017).

2. Train yourself to focus and concentrate.

If you have already conquered these skills, congratulations. If, like many of us, you have not – it’s a worthwhile goal. But, like so many things, you are limited by the amount of your desire. “Your ability to concentrate is only as strong as your commitment to train it” (Newport, 2016, p. 180).

There was a time when the ability to concentrate and focus was exercised regularly. Today technology insidiously usurps these valuable skills. If your attention span is dwindling, a recent article on fastcompany.com offers these valuable tips on training your brain to focus:

  1. Get more sleep.
  2. Write down what is distracting you.
  3. Turn off digital distractions.
  4. Commit to what you’re doing.
  5. Practice.
  6. Integrate “distraction” breaks (Moran, 2017).
3. Overcome your desire for distraction.

Clifford Nass, Professor of Communication at Stanford University, conducted research on human behavior in the digital age. Cal Newport summarized Nass’ findings this way: “Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction … it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate” (Newport, 2016, p. 158-159).

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine provides seven strategies for overcoming our desire for distractions. It’s helpful to build habits that help you stay focused. “The most productive people in the world get one thing done at a time” (Patel, 2018).

  1. Put yourself in distraction-free mode.
  2. Set three main objectives every day.
  3. Give yourself a shorter time frame.
  4. Monitor your mind wandering.
  5. Train your brain by making a game out of it.
  6. Take on more challenging work.
  7. Break the cycle of stress and distraction (Patel, 2018).

Don’t forget that “distracted” has become our default mode. It’s just so easy to log in to Facebook and fill the empty spaces of our time. Catch up with friends and family. See who’s debating whom in our charged political environment. Watch a few cute animal videos. It’s a great way to take us away from our daily drudgery, but it can be dangerous.

What we fail to realize in our day-to-day existence is how much time we spend feeding our impatience instead of feeding our mind. Remember, tempis fugit (time flies).

until nxt time …


Moran, G. (2017, January 10). The 6-step process to train your brain to focus. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://fastcompany.com/3066870/the-6-step-process-to-train-your-brain-to-focus

Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

Patel, D. (2018, December 12). 7 proven strategies for overcoming distractions. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/324560

Stanford Graduate School of Business. (2011, May 31). Chamath Palihapitiya, Founder and CEO Social Capital, on money as an instrument of change. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMotykw0SIk&t=2552s

Thompson, C. (2017, November 15). This Magazine → Social media is keeping us stuck in the moment. Retrieved from https://this.org/2017/11/15/social-media-is-keeping-us-stuck-i-the-moment

Wang, A. (2017, December 12). Former Facebook VP says social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops.’ The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/12/12/former-facebook-vp-says-social-media-is-destroying-society-with-dopamine-driven-feedback-loops/?utm_term=.c0fb788225e6

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