Focus, Daniel-san, focus

I remember observing a two-year-old black and white collie dog in an agility competition. When the whistle blew to mark the start, she dashed off to start with a winged jump, followed by a tunnel, then a teeter-totter with her handler guiding. She continued with two more winged jumps, a series of weaving poles, the A-frame, a pause table, and a wingless jump. She finished with speed and elegance going through a collapsed tunnel, another high winged jump, and finally a tire jump.

There were people cheering, whistling, and waving their hands in glee and enthusiasm. Other dogs were barking in protest, excitement, and anticipation. There were flags fluttering in the wind, horns blasting at the other side of the field for other competitions and the atmosphere was electric in general. Aromas from the pop-corn maker, candy floss machine, and the burger vans were in the air. Yet, this collie did not lose focus. She was at one with her handler, her course route, and her every movement to achieve her goal. No sounds, sights nor smell could distract or deter her when she was at one with her mission.

If you were born in the 70s and 80s, you may remember the title from the Karate Kid as the words of the much-revered Mr Miyagi when he was training Daniel. When I was a child, there were plenty of distractions that came in the form of marbles, climbing into the storm drains in Singapore, exploring nature, playing with fireworks, chatting with friends, watching movies, spending time with family, and many more. Many would call it life.

In these days, distractions are still plentiful. However, it has largely boiled down to a single device. It is with a huge probability that it is the very object you are reading this from, your mobile phone. Mobile phones have changed vastly from the modest piece of equipment when it first came into our lives. I remember in the 90s when mobile phones were big and chunky and usually only either businessmen or gangsters had them. Then it became mainstream, smaller and more affordable, and with it, more available. These days, people develop neck strain as they are usually looking down into them.

If you were an alien coming to this planet and not know about mobile phones, you may be thinking that the mobile phone has either become an essential life-saving device that is giving constant feedback to its user by the way many people engage with it. No one looks up anymore. There is little looking into another person’s eyes when walking and smiling. No one can actually wait anymore. When waiting for a friend or an event, invariably, you will see them reaching into their pockets to pull out their phones.

They are not allowing themselves to have the clarity of mind to think as they always feel the need to engage with something, most conveniently, their mobile phone. With such distractions, how can one ever achieve their goals? Remember the agility collie, pure focus despite the distractions to achieve her goal. With mobiles, it is no longer a tool but an addiction. It may not be a drug, nicotine, or alcohol but it is hitting the same button, the dopamine-I-feel-good button. Humans are extremely good at doing what we feel good about. Every time you get an email, a ‘like’, a new ‘friend’ or ‘follower’ on social media, you release a bit of dopamine, a bit of ‘Ah… that feels good’, not unlike getting hit on a drug, a high felt by a smoker or a sense of calm and relief experienced by someone drinking alcohol. It is an addiction, no more, no less.

The problem with this addiction is that it has not received the taboo, common understanding, and widespread acknowledgment that drugs, smoking, and alcohol have. This addiction eats into our focus, creativity, and ultimately, freedom. Our mental bandwidth is used up even before we start to do anything creative with it. Our genius is marred by a piece of technology and the habits that we developed.

Most people will feel like a part of their body has been cut off when they lose their mobile phone. Take heed, my friend. Protect your genius, dreams, and goals from distractions and never lose focus on the bigger picture (the picture that is bigger than the screen on your mobile!)

‘Addiction to your Distraction is the Death of your Creative Production’ – Robin Sharma

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