“Can you please let me focus on one thing”… is the unheard pleading cry of every brain these days. Yes, even while reveling into the boundless opportunities for enjoyable distractions, and indulging into continuously coming ‘heady doses of dopamine joy’ through all new sensory pleasures scattered around, almost every brain must be murmuring these words under its breath. Well, it is amazing how what you seek the most can make you long for the opposite. It’s the same case with our brains today.
Look back at our evolution and you will realize that humans have always thrived on a balance of ‘quest for newness’ and ‘deliberation on that new until it doesn’t remain new anymore’. This combination of search and research is responsible for civilization outpacing evolution, leading to the ultimate rise of Homo sapiens. We succeeded because we were able to deliberate on what we came to know, and create utility out of it. We flourished because we trained ourselves to overcome our natural tendency to get distracted.
However, look around and you will find that at almost every school bench or office desk, there is someone who is struggling to store that all-important currency of creation – FOCUS. Before we discuss this point in details, watch this video to get the gist of what we are discussing, why it is important, and how it is relevant in professional and personal context…
You heard it right! Once something gains momentum, it is harder to stop it! Whether an urge is related to word, behavior or action, to hold it or mold it in the initial stage is relatively less difficult and more probable, because once it starts, it has its own cycle going on, which often becomes self-feeding. Yes, for anything that can be detrimental for you, the self-control needed to not start it is less than the self-control needed to stop it once it gets started.
Well, like for any behavior, the root of this point lies in neuroscience. If we will look at our brain then we will find that getting distracted is a natural tendency of the brain. In fact, whenever we sense something in the environment which is different from our expectation, then our brain-part ACC (Anterior Cingulate Cortex) gets activated. ACC is involved in error detection or detecting novelty.
This ‘paying attention to every environmental stimulus’, which we today call distraction, is a part of the basic tendencies of the brain because millions of years back, in the jungles of Africa, it was life-saving. After all, at that time, we were not the cooks, we were the food. Yes! We are descendants of those who paid attention to every rustle in the bush. In other words, our ability to focus depends less on how well we are able to pay attention to a particular thing, and more on how well we are able to stop the other things from coming into our attention.
In our brain, this inhibiting role is played by a part called VLPFC, i.e. Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex. Interestingly, impulses for any act of ours gets generated around 0.3 seconds prior to our conscious awareness for that act. It means that our VLPFC-led control mechanism has very less time to regulate an impulse. And if the fragile VLPFC fails to block the impulse early then the impulse prevails, runs its course, and becomes harder to stop after the momentum is gained. Well, but to appreciate this fact, social & emotional intelligence is needed.
This ‘emotional & social intelligence’ is about one’s understanding of the design and functioning of human brain, and how they have a pivotal impact on our behavior and choices. This confluence of neuroscience and psychology sets the base for developing emotional & social intelligence – the skill of managing self and connecting with others. Yes, this all-important skill of all intrapersonal & interpersonal skills can be learnt, practiced and mastered. However, it all begins with some important realizations like…“Once something gains momentum, it is harder to stop it”.
Dr. Sandeep Atre
‘Emotional & Social Intelligence’ Expert
Founder – Socialigence
Note: Socialigence (www.socialigence.net) offers self-paced video-based online course on ‘Social & Emotional Intelligence’ with content that has relevance across the globe, and delivery specifically customized according to the work-scenarios in India.