On last year’s Christmas list I mentioned to Santa that I’d like a copy of Focus by Daniel Goleman. 2016 was going to be a year of concentrated effort, where I pick off one task at a time and get things done. Goleman was to be my tutor in single-mindedness.
10 months on and I’ve read Part I (out of VII) and the book sits alongside a dozen or so other books I’ve dipped in and out of. This is no slight on the author – whose Emotional Intelligence is a must-read – it just turns out that I needed Goleman to read Goleman. I am perhaps as some might say, distractible (I prefer to think of this more as allowing my creative processes to be engaged by new ideas.) Jumping from book to book, idea to idea, keeps my mind inspired, sure, but, alas, also distracted. It turns out it’s harder to hit goals when the goalposts are frequently moving.
Current trends indicate that distraction – and especially digital distraction – could soon reach epidemic levels. From social media, to online games, to TV, constant news, and photostreams – our minds don’t ever have to sit still or chew over a single deep idea if we don’t want to. In all this noise it’s easy to become afraid of the silence. Asking questions of ourselves may be painfully hard, if we don’t like the answers, so we turn on and tune out and the big questions remain unexamined. As 16th Century French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
If I’ve had a particularly distracted week I may look forward to the weekend, which affords me the chance to rest my brain, reset, and start afresh on Monday. I have come to learn that distraction, or avoidance, or “multi-tasking”, is incredibly tiring. Facing what we’re dodging, invariably takes less effort than we fear it might, and much less than what we would spend trying to avoid it.
Sometimes what we are manoeuvring around can’t be tackled by a weekend off. When anxiety churns deep within we need a greater comfort than a lie-in, a late lunch, and a few beers. The Bible tells us that real respite for the soul is not for the put-together and perfect people only (if there are any) but for those struggling and tired: Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
If we let multiple distractions run amok in our minds we will weary to the point of exhaustion. We have the technology now to satiate our schemes of avoidance, the motives of which are themselves as old as humanity. So let’s not let distraction abound unchecked, but rather make it our guide, leading us to ask why it is we can’t “sit quietly” and then, turning to God, be led into true rest.