Regaining focus and time

Regaining focus and time

Most people these days talk about having a lack of time, time going too fast, and not being able to focus on things. I want to share with you today a fair bit of research about how this is actually a fact and how this is quite a societal problem. It’s not your problem; it’s actually a societal problem.

A couple of statistics

A recent study showed that students switched tasks every 65 seconds from doing one thing to the next thing, from looking at one tab to looking at the next tab, writing an assignment to be distracted by their phone – every 65 seconds. 

Now that’s students – well, let’s not think that, as adults, we are immune to this because the same study showed that adults working in offices could focus on one task for three minutes at a time only. If you think about that, three minutes is not a very long time at all, and we wonder why at the end of the day – we go, hmm… how come I didn’t get as much done as I felt I needed to or wish that I had.

Another statistic I want to share with you is that actual reading has gone down by an exponential per cent, and I’m just talking about reading books. In just 2004-2007, now that’s just 20 years ago that that study was done. Reading for men had decreased by 40 per cent, and reading of books for women had decreased by 29 per cent. And what they are saying now is that reading of books across the Western world has actually decreased by over 50 per cent. When did you last read a book? 

Something else I want to share with you, that’s a little bit shocking, but wait for it – is that we actually touch our phones on average 2,617 times within a 24-hour period. Now I’m just going to repeat that because when I read that – I was like, what the heck. We touch our phones on average 2,617 times within a 24-hour period. WOW!!!

A social epidemic

Now let’s explore this a little bit further. When we talk about obesity, obesity is sort of declared as a medical epidemic. However, we have realised that it is not a medical epidemic; it’s actually a social epidemic. It’s a social epidemic because of our access to ‘bad food’, and how hard it is now to walk places and ride to work. Offices are ergonomically designed so that we don’t get up, and the printer isn’t on floor one when we work on floor two; in fact, the printer is right next to us. These are all social things that are happening around us that are changing our behaviours which is why obesity is being called a social epidemic by many social researchers.

Now the same can actually be said for attention and focus. We’ve actually now got something called an attentional pathogenic culture. Now pathogenic – that word actually means the cause of a disease. It’s not the disease itself; it’s the cause of the disease. So our lack of attention or attention deficit and our time lost or the way we lose time is actually pathogenic, and it’s a culture. 

One of these reasons is our pervasive technology. Pervasive technology is where technology pervades every aspect of your life – sound familiar! 


Have you heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Now that’s when people who may be living in places where it’s a really long winter and they see little sunshine can actually start to feel depressed. We know about vitamin D deficiency and all of those things, but we also know lightness and sunshine also bring around lightness within ourselves.

Well, these two really clever dudes, whose names I could mention but I haven’t written down, they created an app. And they created this app called A Sunshine Day… something or other. When you’re connected with friends, the app would alert you when that friend is living in a place where there is just darkness, and it would alert you to take a photo of the sunshine you can see and instantly send that photo to your friend so your friend would be exposed to sunshine and have some light. Now these two gentlemen who created that app were the creators of Instagram.

Funnily enough, that word Insta instantaneously gets a hit of something. 

The Internet 

Now let me talk about some things that are a little bit confronting. And that is about the internet. We all Google things, we love the internet, and we are reliant on it; we pay our bills on it, and we connect on it and communicate on it. 

Fundamentally we say that the internet is actually all about engagement. It’s not about engagement; it’s actually about advertising. The internet profiles you. The internet knows what you click on, it knows what you watch, it knows what you spend more time on, and it has all of these algorithms. 

Not only that, but it has rooms and rooms of people actually analysing the profiles of who does what and our personality weaknesses, not our personality strengths but our personality weaknesses. 

These profiling tools and algorithms they have can determine whether you’re an optimistic person or a pessimistic person. They can determine whether you are a person interested in new experiences or whether you are a person who is potentially more nostalgic and more into nostalgia and tradition. Therefore the posts that you see and the things that pop up on your news feed or on the screen when you first turn your computer on are obviously things of interest to you.

Now Google doesn’t do this for fun. Google does this to make money. It’s not just Google but all of the tech platforms because they want to identify your weaknesses to sell you things so that you feel better about yourself. Another study was done about information technology, and in actual fact, it’s now been proven that Donald Trump paid an organisation called Cambridge Analytica to actually send out campaigns and marketing messages via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – all of those platforms that increased his notoriety, that increased the positivity of his message to those people who were pessimistic about his opposition etc. 

And what I want you to know here is that your lack of attention to things, your inability, my inability to focus on something and get distracted and multi-task and waste time, it’s actually being eroded by tech companies and other companies. It’s not about your discipline or my discipline, and it’s not actually about your willpower or my willpower – and yet we can really beat ourselves up about those things. And it’s said that this whole erosion of attention, of focus and of time is actually by design. 

Stress and life changes

And I want to share with you another couple of things. There was a scientific poll done about people and what they felt was causing their loss of attention. The first thing that came up was not their phones, where you thought it might have been their phones; the first thing that came up that they felt distracted them and caused them not to focus and not pay attention and to waste time was actually stress. The second thing was changes in their life  – such as a new job, a new baby, moving town etc., and the third thing was sleep – or lack of it.

Now let me go back to number one, stress – throughout previous articles, I’ve talked about the stress response. I’ve talked about the fight, flight, freeze, flop and faun response and how stress is a hormone and when we have a lot of cortisol in our body, it taps us into that part of our brain. 

I encourage you to go back to some of those articles that I’ve shared with you and the ways to help you minimise that stress, such as actioning commitment therapy, which is your notice, name and neutralises, such as doing your gratitudes, journaling and all of those things. I’ve also shared with you many things to do about changes in your life and, when there are changes, to reach out for help, where you connect with other people, where ensure you don’t stay isolated, where you share what’s going on with you with someone else to have that shared common experience. 

Enough quality sleep

I want now to go to sleep – sleep. We say that people these days are very much sleep deprived. And we know that because of our reliance on coffee, our reliance on Red Bull. 

Look at the prevalence now of energy drinks. And statistics and research now tell us that only 15% of our first-world population actually wakes up feeling revived, wake up feeling energised. Wake up feeling like, Aaahhh, hello, new day… so if that’s only 15%, then that means 85% of people are waking up feeling tired. 

Now there’s a study that’s been done with some students, and this study showed that the students were constantly fighting off the drive to sleep. So – when we’re fighting off a drive to sleep, we’re not actually able to access our neural resources and our neural pathways very well, and we’re not in the executive functioning part of our brain. 

What this research showed us is that students operating these days are operating at the same level as an active soldier does, or someone with a newborn baby who is waking up throughout the night. 

You can imagine what that does to the heightened level of cortisol that I was talking about earlier. 

For those of you who have experienced any sort of trauma or abandonment or any of those things in early life, just also know that in terms of focus, you are potentially tapped into hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is like constantly looking for the bear that’s going to attack you, so if you’ve experienced abuse, particularly in your zero to seven years, you’re looking for the big bad bear that’s going to come and attack you. 

Now this doesn’t happen consciously; it happens unconsciously, and you all know the things that can help you with this – coaching, programs etc. But I just want you to think about how often in your day-to-day life, your time and your attention are focused on looking for the big bad bear. That might be while opening emails and just seeing a subject line that immediately makes you react with a sense of ‘bad’, or you see people at work going for a meeting, and you’re not invited, and you say to yourself, does that mean because of xy and z?  Now you can imagine then the effect that has on your sleeping patterns.

Not sleeping and sleep deprivation have now actually become generational. When we’re not sleeping well, our body thinks it’s actually in an emergency – a hurricane coming, a sick kid and worrying about the hurricane coming, half awake waiting for my baby to wake up or waiting to be broken into.

The price we pay

The cost of this is that our body drops into the sympathetic nervous system, which is our oh no, something is coming; something bad is about to happen. 

Of course, the physiological effect of this is our blood pressure goes up, and we then crave food. 

However, we crave fast food that’s got sugar and simple carbohydrates in it because sugar and simple carbs give us a really quick hit of energy. Now not only that, but our heart rate, of course, is also elevated, and when those things happen, what we might then do is that we go – well, maybe what I’ll just do is turn off or switch off and put on Shits Creek and just binge watch, or I’ll scroll, or I’ll watch yet another series or a movie. 

That then keeps us awake even longer and keeps us unrested, which then has an impact on day-to-day life – those resourceful neurological pathways of our body are actually half asleep in our brain because half the day, what we’re trying to do is keep ourselves awake.

Now interestingly enough, people who have the illness narcolepsy, which is when the body just falls asleep. People who are narcoleptic are actually a lot more creative in their waking hours. In their waking hours, they’re able to tap into those different neurological pathways because they are so well-rested. Now what am I going to share with you about this, and what are some things that I can say that we can do about this? This is a sociological problem. It’s not a you thing. It’s an epidemic. It’s not you not having enough discipline.

Catie Kirke tips

One of those tips would be to start reading again; Mahaley Chick….. a Hungarian biologist who created the NLP communications model. Many of you will have learnt about the importance of being in flow when we lose track of time when we’re doing something we enjoy, and we go, ‘Oh my god’, and an hour’s just gone by. He said that reading a hard cover/soft cover of an actual book stimulates not just your visual sensory channel, which is what happens when you read from a tablet, but the paper book provides tactile stimulation from a kinesthetic perspective.

So my number one tip for you; I really encourage you in the next week to go to your bookcase or go to a library – just go and find a book that you plonk on your bed when you make your bed in the mornings and decide to set a time 20 mins or half an hour of just reading a book every single day. Maybe even reading a newspaper, but reading something on a daily basis.

I coached a woman the other day who has a blended family. And she has six kids week on, week off, and three every other week, and she has a rule that between 7-7.30 every single evening, every person in that house has to read a book. Now she has kids aged 3-18, and the rule is for half an hour each day. That’s what you do. If she can make time, you can too. 

My second tip, and I know you’ve heard me bang on about this on many occasions – be very, very cautious about how much news you are watching or listening to. And instead of being somebody that sees something happen – maybe a massacre and keep looking every ten minutes because you want to see the update, I promise you that if you choose to read the paper the next morning, you will get the detail of what happened. Still, it will be more factual detail so you are not being heightened by what ifs, what could be.

My first tip is to read. Something you can touch and feel the paper.

My second tip is to be protective about how much news you are listening to. A lot of the news is not actual fact, so make a decision so that, ok, each morning I’ll actually read the paper, or yes, look at my phone and read, say, The Australian online. Or, get an app that has a summary of the news. But make a decision to make it a specific time of the day.

My third tip is for you to think about yourself as a baby. We’re taught when we have children to have a routine and a structure, and I’m going to nag you about having rituals – in the morning to set yourself up for a day in which you are less stressed.  Start having a routine and a ritual for going to bed – turning the lights down, having a warm shower, having a cup of tea, and going back to the old-fashioned alarm in your bedroom rather than having your phone in your bedroom. And for goodness sake, if you have a television in your bedroom, please reconsider the concept of falling asleep in front of the television because your unconscious brain is still watching and listening to that as you are going to sleep. 

Now interestingly enough – research about kids and learning tells us that when we’ve learnt something new or done something new during the day when we are sleeping well, our unconscious brain processes that learning during the night so that it becomes more habitual, and so it helps us and is more resourceful.

So for those of you who have children who go to sleep with a gadget or a television in their room, please do whatever you can to change that habit and really give them some tough love. First and foremost, do it yourself and give yourself some tough love around it and then make that happen throughout the entire family.

Now, my fourth tip is about pre-commitment. Setting goals is about you having a pre-commitment. 

Interestingly enough, a story called Odyssey, written many, many years ago, talked about sailors in this certain part of the ocean where the sexy sirens (mermaids) come to me, a bit as a phone does. So sirens and the fish would call out to the sailors, and the sailors would then dive into the water and die in this part of the sea. A sailor called Ulyssy knew of this, and whenever he started to go towards that part of the ocean, he would get his sailors to tie him up to the mast of the sailing boat so he could not escape at all. His pre-commitment was I am not going to be enticed and entranced by these sirens or the fish. 

As old as that story is, and some may say it’s a fallacy, in 2013, a professor called Molly studied two groups, two groups of men, and said to these men you can come to this study. You can see slightly sexy pictures; come to the waiting room and see them, but if you wait and do nothing and do not look at them then fifteen minutes later, I will show you a sexier picture. 

Out of this study, the men, and I know this is a very gender-specific study, what happened was that the men who made a pre-commitment when they walked into the room would wait the 15 minutes to wait to see sexier, more appealing picture, were the ones that did wait. That did actually focus. 

Pre-commitment this year

Who and how do you want to be this year? 

What experiences do you want to have this year? 

What do you want to do more of? 

What do you want to do less of? 

Who do you want to spend more time with, and who do you want to spend less time with? 

What other things would you like to do with the time that keeps you balanced, keep you calm, keeps you resourced and helps to minimise the cortisol that can rush around your body in this day and age?