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We have become a consumer culture, easily distracted by a digital world. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to maintain focus. This negatively impacts our jobs as well as our relationships.

In this episode, I discuss how lack of focus is destroying our culture and concrete methods you can use to regain your ability to focus.

Show Highlights Include:

  • The shocking truth about how long it takes you to overcome distractions, and how you can maintain your focus to get more done (2:30)
  • Why your phone is your worst enemy when you’re trying to focus and what to do about it (4:56)
  • The stealth phone app that’s quietly stealing nearly 4 hours of your day without you recognizing it (5:57)
  • Why leaving your phone at home makes you smarter (9:31)
  • The “45/15” plan for regaining your focus to improve all areas of your life (13:49)
  • How “Mental Gymnastics” improve your ability to focus (14:58)

Do you want to stop existing and start living your best life right now? Click here to get the first chapter of Dr. Rick’s best-selling book, Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout, for free.


Read Full Transcript

Welcome to “How You Living?” a transformative podcast featuring best-selling author, inspirational speaker and minister, Dr. Rick Rigsby—and, now, Dr. Rick.

Dr. Rigsby: Hello, friends. So glad to be with you today. Hey, I want to start with a question. How many of you have ever started your day with these huge plans, only to discover by the end of the day you hadn’t accomplished the dadgum thing? I think I’ve just described myself on way too many occasions. Here's the bottom line for me. It's a lack of focus and that's what I want to talk about today, that simple but profound and powerful word, focus. [00:57.0]

What is it that causes us not to focus? And I think today we can point to a lot of things, can't we? I mean, I think we have a lot of enemies when it comes to focus, like worry and stress, and fear, which just literally all work together to zap our energy and to really chisel away at our desire to maintain any kind of focus.

Then there's that lack of discipline. I mean, if you talk to folks from a different generation, they will be quick to point out that we don't tend to have the discipline required to focus in this generation. I'm talking about those folks that are in their seventies, eighties and nineties. When they look at our generation, they look at us with some skepticism, and I think for good reason. To be quite honest with you, we are so easily distracted in a society filled with items and visual cues, and various elements that compete constantly for our hearts and for our minds. [02:02.6]

I remember a few years ago, reading a wonderful book by Robin Sharma, who is one of the authorities when it comes to leadership worldwide, and Robin said this. He said the average person is distracted a minimum of two hours every single day, interrupted 11 minutes, and then it takes 30 minutes to return back to a deep level of thinking.

I read that and then I thought, Gosh, that's ridiculous, and then I thought, again, that's me. I mean, I can sit down at my desk in front of my computer, my goal is to write. My goal is to finish a segment of a chapter, say, in a book that particular day. Boy, I find that after about 15 or 20 minutes, I have this insatiable desire to check my emails. I have no idea why. I just want to check them, and then I don't return to writing after checking my emails. [03:03.2]

What do I do? I go right on the internet because I heard there are some specials on Overstock.com, so I’ve got to check that website out. Then I go and look at my mail, and the next thing you know, it's lunch, and the next thing you know, it's three in the afternoon, and the next thing you know, I'm done for the day, not accomplishing any goals. Why? A lack of focus because I made poor choices.

No wonder those older generations are saying you folks lag discipline. You're expecting a computer, you're expecting some digital device, you're expecting a button will solve all your problems, and you know there may be some truth to that. It got me to thinking as I prepared for this podcast. I wanted to get some current trends with regard to our use of social media and I have to tell you, it's pretty eye-opening. [03:57.8]

According to research by BroadbandSearch, out of a world population of 7.8 billion, nearly 5 billion of us use the internet frequently. In 2019, BroadbandSearch indicates that 51% of the traffic worldwide was conducted on mobile phones. Fifty-one percent of internet traffic conducted on mobile phones, that's up significantly from a few years ago.

Then I read this survey conducted by the global tech company, Asurion. We Americans check our phones—are you sitting down?—96 times per day. You heard me right. That's once every 10 minutes. Oh, get this. If you're between 18 and 24, the people in that age group check their phones twice as much as the national average. [04:57.7]

I started looking at the most popular social media platforms. To no surprise, Snapchat, in the millions. LinkedIn, in the millions. Twitter, in the millions. Instagram, over a billion. Facebook, over two billion. I looked at streaming platforms. YouTube leads all services, nearly 2 billion, followed closely by Netflix and everyone else. They're on the heels from Hulu to Vimeo.

But this is the one that blew me away. I enjoy playing a game on my phone from time to time, but I had no idea that mobile gaming was this big. Check this out, y'all. In 2014, we played games on our phones an average of 150 minutes a day. It's estimated that in 2021, we'll play games on our phones 231 minutes a day. In other words, we'll play on our phones four hours a day. Friends, that’s almost as long as kids go to school. That's probably longer than kids do homework. Think about that for just a moment. [06:12.3]

I remember back in 2010, I read this book by Nicholas Carr titled, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. He stated over a decade ago that in a shallow superficial culture, there is no demand being placed upon focus. As a matter of fact, he went on to say that the visual aesthetic becomes a substitute for knowledge and wisdom.

Carr argued that the overuse of the internet has dramatically affected memory, retention, concentration, and relationships. You know what I recall? I recall that Carr simply extended the work of Marshall McLuhan, who looked in the ’60s, not at television programming, but at the way in which programming was being disseminated, and he warned, McLuhan warned back in the ’60s that this soundbite mentality was going to create a sound bite culture and very few paid attention. [07:19.0]

And look what we have in this day and age. Look what we have some 60 years later. We have a soundbite culture that informs us. What Carr is saying is that you don't look at the information per se, but how is the information being packaged and how is that information being disseminated? Here's the bottom line. Carr’s concern is this, that rapid delivery of quick information by the click of a button is now being mistaken for the breadth and depth, and understanding of knowledge, and the two are not compatible, and I hope that we're paying attention to that. [08:06.7]

We're not saying nay to the internet, but we ought to learn to use the internet in a way that also encourages us to focus and to concentrate at the same time. Carr, in 2020, published an updated version of his work. In that updated version, he indicates that more than 10 billion smartphones have been sold. Friends, there's a generation of young people who couldn't imagine not having a phone in their hands. It'd be like a world without cars or outdoor plumbing. It’s hard to imagine. I mean, think about that. There's an entire generation of young people, all they know is engaging via a smartphone.

Carr went on and cited Nielsen's media survey indicating that the average American adult now looks at some sort of electronic screen, whether a TV or a computer, or an iPad or a phone, over nine hours a day. That's a dramatic increase largely due to the explosion of smartphones. [09:14.0]

I recall a study from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. I believe it was back in 2017. Listen to this. This study indicated that students who did not bring their phones to class scored a full letter grade higher on exams. Can't argue with that, can you?

Here's Carr's conclusion and I want you to listen very carefully to this. He says, and I quote, “When we construct our capacity for reasoning and recall, and transfer those skills to a machine, we sacrifice the ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data, but we lose the meaning, and barring a cultural course correction, that may be the Internet's most enduring legacy.” That's a cautionary tale right there, isn't it, friends? [10:05.8]

Here's the bottom line for us today. Whatever the reason, a lack of focus is prevalent in our society and that lack of focus results in a breakdown in concentration. Focus is the lifeline for concentration. A lack of concentration also has effects. It affects our mental toughness, and before you know it, we've lost an entire day; we haven't accomplished our goals; we haven't accomplished anything we set out to do. Whether you're spending the day daydreaming or surfing the net, or driving on your phone, going 40 in a 70-mile-per-hour zone, we have become a consumer culture easily distracted by a digital world, and as a result, the casualty is focus. [10:59.5]

Friends, I can tell you this. I can tell you that I want to make some changes. I find myself too distracted, and so what happens is I allow myself to function throughout the day without limitations, and so what I want to start doing is placing limitations on my distraction. I want to allow for distraction, but to place limits on that distraction.

As a matter of fact, I want to share something with you that speaks to that. That's really how I made it through graduate school, but I’ll talk about that in just a second. First, consider the words of three-time Super Bowl champion, Bill Walsh, who led his 49ers to excellence on the football field. He said the two greatest factors that affected his players’ performance the most, concentration and focus. He said knowing what to pay attention to and knowing how to shift focus, and knowing how and when to intensify concentration is critical for optimal success. [12:05.2]

I can tell you firsthand that a lack of mental toughness can produce lapses in concentration and it can result in personal fouls, and I remember my time being on a football coaching step. Nothing makes the hair of a head coach white and all out like personal fouls. You lose downs. You lose field position. Most of all, you lose momentum.

In light of all this, how do we improve our focus? And let me close by offering just a couple of common sense approaches.

First, I want to return back to how I made it through graduate school. I made it through graduate school by acknowledging that I needed some distraction in my day, and so, number one, how did I improve my focus? I needed a plan that worked for me. I never found any plan that could address my attention disorder. [13:06.2]

I've always had it even before it was diagnosed and labeled, and I thought there was something wrong with me in grade school in the ’60s and junior high, as we used to call it, in high school in the ’70s. Even as an undergraduate in the ’70s, I thought there was something wrong with me.

Now I find myself after a television career in graduate school and with children in graduate school, where to spend time with my family, I would reserve the overnight hours for study and I wasn't doing really well until I came up with a plan that worked for me. I simply called it the 45-15 plan. I told myself if I could focus for 45 minutes, I would give myself a 15 minute reward, a distraction of some kind. That's the only way, friend, I made it through six years of graduate school. [14:01.7]

I would actually work in 45-minute blocks and I would have 15-minute rewards. Sometimes that reward would be a nap. Sometimes it would be watching Sports Center. I remember one time in Eugene, Oregon, in the middle of winter, it was going outside in my front yard, getting on the ground and making snow angels. But here's the point. Find something that works for you. I improve my focus by saying I'm going to work hard and stay focused, but I'm also going to allow time for distraction. The plan must work for you.

How do we improve our focus? A plan that works for you, number one, and, second, mental gymnastics. Let me explain what I mean. Mental gymnastics keeps the brain in a learning mode. When the brain is in a learning mode, you're always looking for something new. You're always anticipating something new. Now you create the platform where instruction can inform instincts. [15:07.7]

First of all, I do this every day. I try to never respond to a person by saying I forgot or I just simply forgot. What I will say is let me think about it and get back to you. In other words, I want to keep jogging my brain to function at the highest level possible. That places a demand upon me to learn something new, to recall something that I’ve already learned. That process helps to instruct my brain and if that instruction informs my instincts, let me put it all together.

Back in December 2020, America lost the great hero by the name of Chuck Yeager. He was a World War II flying ace, record-setting pilot. He worked both with the Air Force and NASA as a test pilot. You recall that Chuck Yeager was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. [16:03.5]

Later, years later, he flew an XIA in a test run. He flew 1,620 miles per hour at 80,000 feet. All of a sudden, his plane starts coming apart. The plane starts rolling and pitching, and yawing out of control. It dropped 50,000 feet in less than a minute. Yeager somehow regained control at 29,000 feet and landed safely on the flatbed of the Mojave Desert.

Somebody asked him, “How did you do it?” He said, “Two words, luck and instinct.” I want to focus on instinct. He said, “I trained so much, I trained my mind so much that I instinctively knew what to do even when everything went out of control.” Friend, you talk about building that kind of concentration that commands the type of focus that we need, it starts not when you're in the cockpit, not when you're on the test flight, but it starts in the simple mundane routines of life. [17:11.7]

Training yourself, playing mental gymnastics, keeping your brain in a learning mode, placing a demand upon your brain to learn into grow, in the process, you're instructing your instincts every single day, and so when you get out of control, you'll find that your instincts will instruct you to maintain focus when you need the focus the most.

Oh, friend, I want you to think about that. Two ways that I try to increase my focus every day, I work a plan that works for me, and I work at mental gymnastics, keeping my brain in a learning mode, placing a demand upon my brain to learn new things, realizing that instruction will inform my instincts. [18:05.8]

When you learn to focus during the simple mundane routines of life, even for just a few minutes, your concentration will increase and you may find that your instincts will be instructed to maintain focus when you need that focus the most.

I want you to think about these thoughts just for a few moments and I want you to start employing anything that will help you increase your focus. Even in a season, even in an era and age where everything is telling you not to focus, it is possible to improve your focus.

Oh, friend, I’ve enjoyed today. I hope that you've been encouraged. I hope you've been uplifted. I hope that you have a renewed sense that you don't have to give in to a lack of focus, that you can accomplish the things you want to by making some simple adjustments. [19:09.5]

Until we meet again, this is Dr. Rick asking you the most important question I can ask today. How you livin’?

Are you ready to make an impact in your world right now? Do you want to stop existing and start living your best life right now? Dr. Rick wants to give you the first chapter of his bestselling book, “Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout”, absolutely free. Just go to www.RickRigsby.com/FreeGift to get the print or audiobook right now.

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