Shut Out The Noise

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In about a year and a half as the Wide Receivers coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Darryl Drake had become known to tell his players, “Shut out the noise.” It applied to many distractions from whatever tasks at hand the Steelers faced. Drake, 62, died August 11, this year, and “Shut out the noise” were the last words some of the players heard from him.

What does it mean to “shut out the noise” and have focus? To be so engrossed in a project or activity that the world seems to fade away? Not to sound too old-fashioned, but it sometimes seems as though our grandparents and parents focused a lot better than we are, and our children seem to focus even less than us. Did they have more focus or less noise?


Starve The Distractions

It turns out that our perceptions of the lack of focus in the generations that will follow us are real. Nicholas Mancall-Bitel, writing for the BBC (February 20, 2019) summarizes the current observations of psychologists and educators:

“Early brain development is a complex topic, but over the last few years, researchers around the world have raised concerns about the impact of smartphones, and media multitasking on concentration.”

Dr. Jim Taylor, the author of the book “Raising Generation Tech,” concurs:

“There is a growing body of evidence, but pretty clear evidence that technology, social media, immediate access to the internet and smartphones are hurting kids’ ability to focus. We are fundamentally changing the way kids think and the way their brains develop.”

Educators are pushing for teaching our children in smaller, “bite-sized” chunks rather than whole chapters and sections, and everyone in the education community are insisting that there must be the development of new technologies to reach children in schools better. Really?


Knee-Jerk Reactions

Many adults and older children alike claim that the lack of focus, their very inability to complete a task must be due to ADHD or learning disabilities.

ADHD is a severe challenge to those who have it. Dr. Perpetua Neo, in an interview for Business Insider, stated:

“For people who know someone with ADHD — perhaps a colleague or someone you’re in a relationship with…it’s best to remind yourself they are wired a bit differently to you. Every relationship has compromises, and you should work out what yours will be, and where your boundaries are.”

My point here is that ADHD or learning disabilities are diagnosed and may require medication in younger children and adults, however, for the vast majority of us, the lack of focus is self-induced and due to far more manageable stressors.

While I am certainly not opposed to parents who suspect ADHD in their children (or themselves) getting checked out, don’t be surprised if the medical professional determines that there is no ADHD or learning disability at hand. Indeed, ADHD affects only about 4 percent of the total population. For everyone to seemingly blame their lack of focus on this severe diagnosis does the real sufferers an injustice. Far more likely, it is something else.

Neil Patel, writing for Forbes magazine, identified several ways that a lack of focus could be mitigated, including that we should start each day with some form of exercise; that we should eat a healthy breakfast and that we need healthier fats in our diet. In addition to food and exercise, he urges us to reduce stress and anxiety in our lives, to set small daily goals, to write out the critical tasks and my favorite focusing aide of all, to eliminate pointless distractions.

While it may be easier to blame a lack of focus on a medical condition, the truth is that for most children and adults who lack focus, they benefit far more by concentrating on the task at hand than stimulating their brains with the nonessential.

When we substitute focusing on balancing a variety of other activities, we call it multi-tasking. We think we’re productive, but we’re not.

Matthew Taren wrote an insightful article for Entrepreneur entitled: “Why Multitasking Is a Myth That’s Breaking Your Brain and Wasting Your Time.” He stated:

“As much as you might feel like you can read your email, talk on the phone, and engage in Facebook Messenger chat all at once, it’s impossible! What you’re doing is playing multiple games of “red light/green light” in your brain – continually starting and stopping each task repeatedly. In psychology, this is known as ‘serial tasking,’ not multitasking.

Going along with those are the messages we are giving children. Traveling as much as I do, I can’t say just how many times I have witnessed the scene in restaurants where parents place a video screen in front of their small children or allow bigger kids to play games on their smartphones, instead of interacting with them. I can’t say how many arguments I’ve overheard where the same parents argue with the same children to focus or listen.

The lack of focus all around us is mostly self-inflicted, and it’s getting worse. Those that will win in the years to come will be those who can push aside all the distractions and shut out the noise.



For more information about Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author Steve Gilliland and the Gilliland Foundation, please contact steve@stevegilliland.com / 724-540-5019 / www.stevegilliland.com.