Read more books! Since I was young, this message has been drummed into me. My father was a passionate reader and collector of books of knowledge, and this became my mantra too. I would buy books on business, on successful people and their lives, on history, on geography, on adventure and adventurers, on politics and finance. I couldn’t walk past a book shop without stopping and browsing.
But about ten years ago something changed. I stopped buying books, and on the infrequent times, I did buy. I struggled to read them. I opened them up and found I couldn’t maintain concentration. My eyes would drift off the words, or worse still jump ahead further down the page. I was scanning the page, without taking anything in. My thoughts and ideas were bouncing around, lacking focus and certainly not concentrated and taking in the message. I was jumping ahead trying to get to the significant bit, rushing the reading, thinking that maybe the next page offered something more exciting.
I realised that my ability to concentrate had been damaged. Are you struggling in the same way? Are you finding it more difficult if not impossible to maintain concentration to read a book or do just one thing at a time?
This wasn’t restricted to reading either. I recently went to the cinema and struggled to concentrate on the screen for the two-hour film even though I was enjoying the movie. My mind kept wandering. Do you recognise this feeling?
I think the internet has damaged my ability to maintain concentration levels. The internet has trained our brains to keep looking for the next dopamine fix of excitement. It’s like playing a fruit machine whereby your brain is transfixed by the possibility of a fresh reward. So, you keep pulling the handle to spin the wheels.
The internet has been designed specifically to work in the same way. You are tempted and encouraged to watch one more video, scroll through one more post, look at one more picture. All the while you think maybe the next one will be the best, funniest, most interesting. We fall into an almost hypnotic, trance of mindless activity.
I read some time ago that this behaviour in children has been found to rewire the brain functions and I can believe it. I can see the changes in my adult brain. God only knows the effect it is having on growing, impressionable, unformed children’s minds.
So, what can we do about it? I don’t have an answer to the internet as a whole. But I have been thinking specifically about books. I recently downloaded the audible app. Audible is a library of audiobooks, read by the authors or other celebrities.
I have a lot of time where I can listen to something. In the past, I wasted this on music and radio. Now I’m using the time to consume books again. OK, I’m not reading them. But by listening to them, I am absorbing the information and getting the learning. Sadly, I don’t think it has improved my ability to concentrate again; I’m still trying to do two things at once. But at least its progress.
I have found there is a considerable amount of spare time within the day to listen. So, for example, I listen while I’m getting dressed, while I’m preparing meals, washing up, exercising and driving. I realised that it amounts to 4 or 5 hours per day. I feel like it is a real breakthrough. I adopted this a week ago and have averaged just under a book a day.
You can gain so much knowledge, learning and inspiration from books. If you analyse the pathway of successful people, men and women who have made the same journey that you want to take. You will see them constantly talking about reading and learning. They frequently identify it as the critical component in their success.
For you to reach your goals and dreams you must commit to a journey of learning. I know how hard that is, especially when it involves reading. That’s where audible comes in, listening to the books is so much easier. Sure, it may well offend the purists among us. But ignore them. Ignore your doubters. Instead turn your face towards your dreams. Commit to learning and work toward your dreams every day. Long before others believe, you must believe it’s possible.
Remember, we climb the mountain, not in giant leaps but one small step at a time.