Are you aware we are living in a data-rich yet attention-impoverished world that is affecting our lives, especially our brains?

We need to be judicious about the interruptions we allow and how we deal with them. Studies show workers are interrupted every 11 minutes, 44% of workers interrupt themselves and we deal with interruptions immediately 73% of the time, even though it may not be necessary. We live in a world that is data-rich yet attention-poor. Distractions come at a high cost to both mental processing and the calibre of decision making required to be world class.
A recent encounter in Italy unexpectedly illustrated this for me.

Melodious sounds drew me down a lane in Florence. To my delight, I watched as spectators spontaneously danced on the cobbled pavements to the tune of a well-known piece. Gracious as his music, our busker gave genuine appreciation to each person as the chink of coins landed in his violin case. So taken was I with the quality of the playing, and an instinctive hunch there was a story behind this exceptional talent, I decided to approach the musician.

Victor studies in Salzburg and plays with some of Europe’s top orchestras. He enthusiastically revealed his deep commitment to his craft. As you would anticipate, there are the many dedicated hours of study and practice required throughout each day. Certainly that was to be expected. But what he said next though, rather surprised me.

He declared with conviction,

“If you want to be world class, you have to discipline distractions.”

Now I was intrigued.

“A violin virtuoso is not born, but made by a set of decisions. Those decisions are made each and every day, hour by hour, moment by moment.”

Victor explained that every minute of every day he had to make decisions that enabled him to be focused and directed to some aspect of his profession. There was not only little time, but no time, for the irrelevant or things that did not contribute to his craft. He admitted, “One day, three years ago, I realised that the first and last thing I did in a day was look at social media. That was a distraction. A significant distraction of focus, and certainly time, I did could not afford to engage if I wanted to be world class. These are critical times in a day to set one’s focus, study and integrate learning. I now know that to discipline distractions is a critical string to my bow; it contributes immeasurably to my success.”

“And why busking?”, I ask.

“I have chosen to busk for several months at this time because it is giving me an intimate worldly experience. I want to develop a special ability to engage with those who appreciate music.”

This young virtuoso is making a different set of decisions to achieve a different level of accomplishment. To be world class is a rare inclusion in any person’s repertoire.

The result of multitasking and heavy multimedia usage coupled with our world of ubiquitous distractions is having a negative impact on thinking. Our brain may be changing due to the constant use of technology and the distractions it provides. It takes effort and awareness to discipline distractions, especially distractions that appeal to our sense of belonging and desire for entertainment.

The field of neuroscience proves that taking care of our most important asset, our brain, is imperative to being more effective in decision making. Choosing how and when to be interrupted is an even more important discipline in our age of big data.

So, if your intention is to become world class, start disciplining your distractions today.

Jill Sweatman is a neuroscience strategist in learning and development. For more articles please contact jill@jillsweatman.com or visit jillsweatman.com