Blurry life (Kimberly Barber, February 2022)

Where is my focus and who stole it??!? I know I’m not alone in feeling pulled in a zillion directions, unable to stay connected to the One. Singular. Task. At. Hand. Unitasking! Could that please be a thing?

I listened last weekend to Johann Hari being interviewed on CBC about his new book, Stolen Focus, and it really got me thinking about how the incessant distractions from my pinging phone apps are interfering with my ability to stay centred on a task. Whether that involves staying present in a Zoom meeting (when will they end?!?) or taking even 20 minutes to do a deep practice session where I don’t try to do three other things (poorly, as Hari would affirm) at the same time, I recognize the enormous impact that the presence of my smartphone (stupid phone!) has on my life. I notice it in my students too; their heads buried in their social media as they wait for their lesson times outside the various studios, rather than preparing mentally or emotionally for what they’re about to engage in. But it’s not just the “young people”–so many of our friends and family (even my 82 year old mother!) find it challenging to sit for even a few minutes, engaged in a conversation that involves true listening and an exchange of ideas.

How can we take back the focus that the computers in our pockets (and more often, in our palms) have stolen from us? I’ve been trying to practice in smaller increments–20 to 30 minutes at a time–and leaving my phone elsewhere in the house so that I can’t see or hear it. I already keep it on silent mode most of the time and I have silenced notifications on many of my apps to deter me from responding to the dopamine hit I get every time that little red circle with a number in it appears. I’ve returned a little more often to the meditation that was such a life-saver in the early months of the pandemic. I’m turning on Do Not Disturb more readily when I need time to pay attention to the ONE TASK I’m doing.

I’ve learned that this “stolen focus” is harming my brain, and also my relationships, never mind getting in the way of truly being embodied in my music making. I want to get it back. Maybe you do too?