By Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
My resolutions were so ambitious in the era before children. I would start each year with a list of goals, similar to the list you make when applying to colleges: Some are a stretch, others within reach, and a few backups to prevent feeling like a complete failure.
But as my responsibilities have grown, I’ve streamlined my resolutions. Life starts feeling too short to be in a constant state of self-improvement.
My goal this year is not forward-looking. It’s an attempt to regain something from the past: Focus. We used to have the ability to give sustained, undivided attention to a person or to a project. But all the devices that make our lives more efficient come at a price. They drain us of our focus, too rare a commodity these days.
There were several nights last year when I would be finishing a story at 3 a.m. because hours pass by like minutes on the Internet. From slavishly checking our iPhones to catching up on Facebook, we allow interruptions to intrude and disrupt the way our brains are wired.
Unless the tasks are mindless, like laundry, multitasking is a myth. Even when we “relax,” we’re doing several things at once — watching television while riding a stationary bike while texting a friend and checking our e-mail. This is not the sort of relaxation that recharges our minds and bodies. Doing several things at once leaves us stressed and less able to filter the information overload.
Scientists say we have become addicted to the mini hits of dopamine released when our brain is alerted to a burst of information. Without this constant state of alerts, we get restless, bored. The New York Times recently profiled an intelligent young high school student, who can create complex films on his computer but lacks the attention span to finish reading a book.
At some point, we ceded our privacy, then we gave up our concentration. This is an insidious sort of procrastination.
It is more dangerous than doodling or daydreaming because it creates an aura of faux productivity.
I’m wary of the technology creep into my life. Yes, amid the distractions there are nuggets of useful information, meaningful exchanges and enriching relationships. But, at what cost?
This New Year, the start of this new decade is a chance to consider those costs more seriously.
Conventional wisdom guides us on how to be more successful with our resolutions: Find a buddy, be specific and aim low. Rather than resolving to lose weight for instance, set your sights on losing two pounds a week until you reach a certain number, and recruit a friend to offer moral support. These three simple steps exponentially increase the odds of meeting a challenge.
I’ll start my campaign to prioritize focus modestly. I’ll set some limits on when I’ll check the phone and wander on the Internet. I’ll take sustained breaks from digital stimulation. I’m pretty strict about enforcing a “no-screens” rule during the weekdays for my children.
Perhaps, I’ll recruit them to help me find my own way back.
Aisha Sultan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Contact her at email@example.com.