November 2023

5 Books To Improve Your Focus

— When was the last time something or someone had your full attention? In today’s world, those moments of pure being are becoming increasingly rare.
5 Books To Improve Your Focus
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When was the last time something or someone had your full attention? In today’s world, those moments of pure being are becoming increasingly rare.

More choices, more scrolling, more double taps, and shares have hindered our ability to attend to something, to be fully immersed with it. Our endless choices on our career, fashion, and even what to eat have flooded and overwhelmed our information processing systems. But there are ways to regain moments of clarity. And it starts with a good book. Here are my picks on how to learn, understand, and improve your focus and attention. Enjoy!

Rapt is a masterful analysis on all bridges of attention and how it impacts our lives. Published in 2009, the book is reaching its teen years, but offers a relevant and fresh outlook on the importance of living a focused life.

Drawing research from multiple renowned scientists, professionals and peak performers, Gallagher synthesizes the role of attention in our lives with comprehension and clarity. Citing a personal tragedy that would demand attention, Gallagher realizes that what you pay attention to ultimately determines the quality of your life and went on the pursuit of research to support this hypothesis. Gallagher’s work shows the role of attention on all aspects of lives including work, leisure, relationships, friendships, and family. She shows that turning your attention the right way can greatly improve the way you live.

More than 10 years after it’s been published, the ideas portrayed in Rapt hold true today. Much has changed throughout the past decade, and being able to pay attention for longer periods of time seems to be becoming a forgotten art. This is a book for those looking to understand attention, or those simply looking to improve their lives. It is a captivating read that will leave you wanting to pay attention in a more deliberate, positive, and reflective way.

Our favourite quote from Rapt

All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.

Acclaimed behavioral science writer Winifred Gallagher's Rapt makes the radical argument that much of the quality of your life depends not on fame or fortune, beauty or brains, fate or coincidence, but on what you choose to pay attention to. Rapt introduces a diverse cast of characters, from researchers to artists to ranchers, to illustrate the art of living the interested life. As their stories show, by focusing on the most positive and productive elements of any situation, you can shape your inner experience and expand your world. By learning to focus, you can improve your concentration, broaden your inner horizons, and most important, feel what it means to be fully alive.

Some books, ideas, and inventions happen before their time and as time goes on their value grows. The Paradox of Choice is an iconic, deepening look into what too much choice born in the age of abundance has on our well-being. First published in 2004, Barry Schwartz’s work takes the reader through a well-researched journey into why having more is not necessarily better.

From the early pages, Schwartz challenges the notion that having more choices is better. He explains that having few choices improves our well-being and happiness. He proves through research that the more options you have, the harder it will be to decide. Weaving stories from consumer experiences and scientific studies, The Paradox of Choice shines a light on the fallacy of more is always better.

His work details that beyond consumption choices, the culture of abundance has also impacted family lives, career choices, and individual needs creating a society that has more but feels like it has less. As I write this, in the summer of 2022, the numbers of choices we’re faced with has grown exponentially. The Paradox of Choice carries more value now than in 2004, and it is a must read for those looking to improve the choices they make in their lives and derive more satisfaction from making them.

Our favourite quote from The Paradox of Choice

Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.

A societal criticism of our fixation with choice, and how it adds to anxiety, unhappiness, and regret, in the style of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. The author's new preface is included in this paperback edition. Whether it's buying a pair of jeans, getting a cup of coffee, picking a long-distance carrier, applying to college, selecting a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions have grown increasingly difficult owing to the overwhelming number of options with which we are faced.

We presume that having more alternatives equals having better options and being more satisfied as Americans. Excessive choice, on the other hand, might cause you to second-guess your decisions before you make them, set you up for excessively high expectations, and make you blame yourself for any and all failures. This can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and chronic stress in the long run. And, in a culture that teaches us that there's no justification for not being perfect when you have so many alternatives, having too many options can lead to severe depression.

Barry Schwartz demonstrates in The Paradox of Choice when choice—the characteristic of human freedom and self-determination that we prize—becomes harmful to our psychological and emotional well-being. Schwartz demonstrates how the enormous growth in choice—from the ordinary to the deeper issues of managing job, family, and individual needs—has paradoxically become a problem rather than a solution in clear, entertaining, and anecdotal writing. Schwartz also demonstrates how our preoccupation with choice leads us to seek out things that make us feel worse.

Schwartz presents the counterintuitive case that reducing options may considerably reduce stress, anxiety, and busyness in our lives by combining existing social scientific data. He outlines eleven practical techniques for reducing the amount of options available to a manageable number, developing the discipline to focus on the most essential options while ignoring the rest, and finally gaining greater satisfaction from the decisions you must make.

We live in a world where distractions abound, and I'll be the first to acknowledge that I procrastinate. Indistractable is a vital book, as modern technology appears to have become opium to some. So, what can we do to increase our productivity? Well, Stanford Professor Nir Eyal tells us how to get more done in a comprehensible, conversational manner, with plenty of technical depth for those of us who appreciate learning the ins and outs. Of course, it focuses extensively on social media since it is one of the habits that most of us appear to have that diverts our attention away from more vital problems.

Our favourite quote from Indistractable

We can cope with uncomfortable internal triggers by reflecting on, rather than reacting to, our discomfort. We can reimagine the task we’re trying to accomplish by looking for the fun in it and focusing on it more intensely. Finally, and most important, we can change the way we see ourselves to get rid of self-limiting beliefs.

You sit down at your desk to work on an important project, but a notification on your phone interrupts your morning. Later, as you're about to get back to work, a colleague taps you on the shoulder to chat. At home, screens get in the way of quality time with your family. Another day goes by, and once again, your most important personal and professional goals are put on hold.

What would be possible if you followed through on your best intentions? What could you accomplish if you could stay focused and overcome distractions? What if you had the power to become "indistractable"?

International best-selling author, former Stanford lecturer, and behavioral design expert, Nir Eyal, wrote Silicon Valley's handbook for making technology habit-forming. Five years after publishing Hooked, Eyal reveals distraction's Achilles' heel in his groundbreaking new book.  

In Indistractable, Eyal reveals the hidden psychology driving us to distraction. He describes why solving the problem is not as simple as swearing off our devices: Abstinence is impractical and often makes us want more.  

Eyal lays bare the secret of finally doing what you say you will do with a four-step, research-backed model. Indistractable reveals the key to getting the best out of technology, without letting it get the best of us.

Flow - The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

This concept of flow , or, to be more precise, a framework, evolved into much more than a productivity tool. It gave me a foundation for living a productive and happy life. A framework that, when tapped into, relieves you of all tension and boredom while filling the void with pleasure, joy, and progress.

When you're in the flow, self-consciousness fades and you lose track of time; you're unconscious of any tension or worry, and the experience itself fills you with joy.

Furthermore, flow-activities are intrinsically satisfying; the more you do them, the more you seek comparable experiences.

Our favourite quote from Flow

Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's famous investigations of "optimal experience" have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. In this new edition of his groundbreaking classic work, Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates the ways this positive state can be controlled, not just left to chance. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience teaches how, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can discover true happiness and greatly improve the quality of our lives.

I approached Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism as the sequel to his hugely impactful Deep Work. It’s the synthesis of Cal’s learnings over the three years since Deep Work was published and is a timely cultural critique on our reliance on technology and a practical guide to regaining control of our attention.

Deep Work is perhaps the most valuable skill you can learn and leverage in our attention-deficit society. In Digital Minimalism, Newport makes an unsettlingly strong case for how and why we should be reducing our use of technology (in particular, social media), and why we need to be more specific and careful about our use.

Digital Minimalism is a philosophy that will teach you where to draw the line and how to focus this energy and attention on what matters instead; your goals and quality of life. Time off our digital devices is the key to living a focused life in a noisy world.

“A manifesto of great practical import for our modern age….I estimate that [my interview with Cal] rates among the most consequential conversations I’ve had in the 6+ year history of this podcast.” Rich Roll, host of the Rich Roll Podcast, author of Finding Ultra

Our favourite quote from Digital Minimalism

The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.

Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It's the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world.

In this timely and enlightening book, the bestselling author of Deep Work introduces a philosophy for technology use that has already improved countless lives.

Digital minimalists are all around us. They're the calm, happy people who can hold long conversations without furtive glances at their phones. They can get lost in a good book, a woodworking project, or a leisurely morning run. They can have fun with friends and family without the obsessive urge to document the experience. They stay informed about the news of the day, but don't feel overwhelmed by it. They don't experience "fear of missing out" because they already know which activities provide them meaning and satisfaction.

Now, Newport gives us a name for this quiet movement, and makes a persuasive case for its urgency in our tech-saturated world. Common sense tips, like turning off notifications, or occasional rituals like observing a digital sabbath, don't go far enough in helping us take back control of our technological lives, and attempts to unplug completely are complicated by the demands of family, friends and work. What we need instead is a thoughtful method to decide what tools to use, for what purposes, and under what conditions.

Drawing on a diverse array of real-life examples, from Amish farmers to harried parents to Silicon Valley programmers, Newport identifies the common practices of digital minimalists and the ideas that underpin them. He shows how digital minimalists are rethinking their relationship to social media, rediscovering the pleasures of the offline world, and reconnecting with their inner selves through regular periods of solitude. He then shares strategies for integrating these practices into your life, starting with a thirty-day "digital declutter" process that has already helped thousands feel less overwhelmed and more in control.

Technology is intrinsically neither good nor bad. The key is using it to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you. This book shows the way.

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Learn, learn, learn, ladies and gentlemen... I think it’s very important to continue to challenge your mind.