According to a mobile phone ownership survey in the UK, 74% of the population owns a smartphone – a percentage that is steadily increasing. The same study also found that millennials and younger adults spend “too much” time using their phones and that most of them feel anxious when separated from their gadgets. This alarming finding indicates the growing dependence of UK residents (amongst others) on digital devices. Technology is undoubtedly beneficial in making lives easier, but it can also have significant detrimental effects when used frequently and inappropriately, and this can negatively affect our mental state. One such destructive effect, for which there is some evidence, is the reduction in our ability to focus effectively. This mental “muscle” is what enables us to direct attention, and hence to think and be present, rather than just react.
How is Technology Affecting The Way We Focus?
In his article on ‘Being in the Moment‘, Han-Son shared how one of the downsides of using technology is that it keeps us distracted from what’s important to us. For instance, even if we go out for drinks with friends, we can’t fully spend quality time together because we’re distracted by our phones instead of catching up with each other. As a result, technology is taking away our ability to focus on what’s in front of us, as well as our precious time with family and friends.
Technology is changing not only the way we use our time but also how our minds function. Several studies have shown that the frequent use of technology also impacts many functions of our brain, from our attention span to working memory. A study from Science Daily claimed that because we are bombarded with notifications and messages from the internet, we are constantly encouraged to divide our attention from one piece of information to another. This significantly decreases our capacity to maintain our focus on a single task, and our mental energy becomes fragmented. Similarly, a research article from Rachel Lara and Rebecca Bokoch explained that because different media platforms compete for our attention, our ability to maintain focused attention and use our working memory efficiently declines.
All is not yet lost, however, as it’s never too late to change our habits and eliminate our dependence on technology. In the next section, I will share some methods you could apply to reclaim your focus from these distractors.
How Can You Reclaim Your Focus From Technology?
We know that breaking old habits can be difficult, but it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. A podcast episode entitled The Science of Making and Breaking Habits from Huberman Lab explains that our brains have an innate ability to change and adapt to new habits. Because the nervous system has the ability to change its activity in response to inner or outer stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, and connections, this “neuroplasticity” helps us eliminate old behaviours and create new ones. One very practical method the podcast suggests is the helpful 21-day habit formation and consolidation technique. It has been found that to develop a new and better habit, we must faithfully commit to the practice for 21 days, so a new pattern of behaviour can become established to supplant the habit we wish to change. It follows that if we want to lessen our technology usage, we should limit our screen time for at least 21 consecutive days. Through this approach, as long as we’re committed to changing our actions, we can reshape the tech-related habits that have affected our focus.
Another way to lessen our use of technology is to utilise screen time applications. For instance, recent Samsung phones have a built-in screen time tracker and limiter called Digital Wellbeing. Using this application, you can select modes such as ‘Me Time’ or ‘Work Time’, allowing you to limit the applications you can use when these modes are enabled. If you choose ‘Work Time’, you can restrict applications like Facebook and Instagram to reduce the number of possible distractors. You can also limit distractions by simply putting your phone on mute so that you won’t be interrupted while working. This handy feature is available on iOS as well.
We can also practise other indirect ways of reclaiming our focus from our devices. We can help our mind by taking regular breaks, (45 minutes concentration, followed by 15 minutes rest are good intervals), taking a full week’s break from any screen use; purposely move to ‘manual’ methods where we are using our physical senses more (coloured pens, mind-maps, drawing, handwritten notes).
I’m sure you could come up with other creative methods that will work for you – those I’ve shared show that reclaiming your focus from technology doesn’t mean you have to give it up entirely. Instead, it’s more about learning to control tech use to avoid infringing on things that matter. Through these simple steps, I hope you can develop mind management skills to let you have a more peaceful and balanced life.
Katherine is a freelance writer and mental health enthusiast. She enjoys writing articles about mental wellness to help others live more peaceful and happier lives. Currently, she’s learning about mindfulness meditation and is on her journey to reduce her dependence on technology.