If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with your digital devices. On the one hand, they give us access to unlimited amounts of information, connect us with friends and family, and allow us to work from pretty much anywhere. On the other hand, they can captivate our attention so much that we feel distracted and angsty. And try as we might, we often find it hard to ignore the itch to stop scrolling through Instagram and really listen to what a loved one is saying. Why do these devices feel so dang addictive?
My guest today is a neuroscientist who’s studied that question in depth. His name is Adam Gazzaley and he’s the author of The Distracted Mind, as well as the founder of Gazzaley Labs at the University of California at San Francisco. There, he and his team have researched what goes on in our brains when we use our digital devices, why they distract us, and what we can do about it.
Today on the show, Adam and I discuss the science of distraction and focus. Adam walks us through the cognitive functions we use to focus our attention and to avoid distraction. He then explains why these evolved cognitive functions are mismatched to today’s constantly buzzing digital devices, using a theory of optimal food foraging borrowed from biology. We then discuss action steps grounded in science on how you can beat distraction and stay more focused throughout the day. We end our conversation talking about Adam’s work creating prescription video games (yes, prescription) that can be used to help elderly patients and individuals with ADHD.
- What research on aging can teach us about memory and distractability
- The science of distraction — why and how it happens
- What is “goal interference”?
- The 3 most important skills in successfully achieving your goals
- What hinders our ability to pay attention?
- Top-down vs. bottom-up attention
- The ways in which technology can actually help our attention, especially as we age
- Applying the “optimal foraging theory” to the idea of distraction
- Are tech companies intentionally making their software addicting?
- Advice for people who feel addicted to their smartphones/tech
- Why you should decrease your accessibility
- How to manage your boredom and anxiety
- How video games can help you recapture your ability to focus (as well as those with ADHD)
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- How to Improve Your Working Memory
- How to Memorize Anything
- Podcast: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction
- Podcast: The Value of Deep Work
- Podcast: Solitude and Leadership
- Our 3-part series on Attention
- 12 Concentration Exercises from 1918
- Decluttering Your Digital Life
- How to Quit Mindlessly Surfing the Internet and Actually Get Stuff Done
- The Complete Guide to Quitting Your Smartphone Habit
- 4 Questions to Crush FOMO
- Podcast: The Joy of Missing Out
- Work When You Work; Play When You Play
- Podcast: The Science of Behavior Change
- Podcast: ADHD Myths and Realities
In The Distracted Mind, Adam does a great job breaking down what goes on in our brain when we’re distracted, but more importantly provides researched-backed insights on what you can do to be less distracted.
Connect With Adam
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
Last updated: September 22, 2017