Focus - Daniel Goleman
Do you have trouble remembering what someone said to you a few minutes ago? Not tasting your food while eating? Paying more attention to your phone rather than the person you are speaking with.....Are you skim reading this book review?
The thing that is troubling about this book is that it is now 8 years old. It was written in 2013, and if modern day phone usage is anything to go by, attention deficit must be close to pandemic proportions now.
Particularly worrying is what all of these pings and light flashes are doing to our children. And whilst screen time is only one source of diverting our focus, it would seem to be the most potent. Of course, the other pandemic - coronavirus - has only increased our connection with technology and arguably decreased our powers of focus even further.
"....the social and emotional circuitry of a child’s brain learns from contact and conversation with everyone it encounters over the course of a day. These interactions mould brain circuitry; the fewer hours spent with people—and the more spent staring at a digitized screen—portends deficits"
Apparently according to the research around 8% of US gamers under the age of 18 seem to meet psychiatry's criteria for addiction. Studies of their brain chemistry were found to be similar to alcoholics and drug abusers.
However it's not all a diagnostic of doom. Focus, as the book goes on to explain in remarkable detail , can be trained.
And what would the benefits be of increased focus anyway? Well it turns out there are several.
Developing immunity to emotional turbulence
More able to stay unflappable in a crisis
Do you know anyone in your life like this? It might be worth observing how they focus. And perhaps asking how they got good at it?
The book explores how improved focus is helpful at every level.
For an individual wanting to attain mastery (regular practice),
For an organisation - devising it's strategy to define the desired pattern of each business area's attention
For societies - how the power of weak ties, defined as loose casual connections, can drive a movement.
There is a chapter devoted to helping children develop better focus skills. And how pushy parenting drives fear and hampers the child's pre-frontal cortex, thereby slowing down the very thing the parent wishes the child to succeed in. This chapter is worth the purchase price alone in my view.
Working with young kids at home has certainly put our ability to manage boundaries to the test. And no wonder, distractions are costly in terms of time. The book introduced to me the concept of 'Switching' . This idea that once you are in flow with a task or piece of work, a single distraction like a text message, can switch you out of your current focus, taking several minutes to ramp back up again to full concentration.
Overall, 'Focus' is an absorbing read. Yes, it is a little heavy on neuroscience, but it is all explained very neatly so anyone (even me) can get it. It also provides much of the fact base I've been searching for when trying to explain how habits stick. Finally I would say it does a great job of describing the numerous problems that can unfold where focus doesn't exist.
I left the book more knowledgeable and motivated to develop my own focus muscles. But needing to look elsewhere to find practical techniques to develop them. For that, I'd recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear.. See my book review here.
Overall very highly recommended.
Focus by Daniel Goleman is available on Amazon priced £6.99 at the time of writing. Here is a link (non affiliate)
A self confessed Change obsessive and founder of Jigsaw Change Consulting.
A London based consultancy providing an improvement lens on to workplace culture.