Distraction sickness: do you have it?

Take your mental capacity back from technology

Welcome to For Leaders, your go-to source for essential leadership insights and perspectives shaping today's world.

In this week’s newsletter:

  • Strategic Summaries: Key insights and takeaways on the importance of attention

  • Words of Wisdom: A powerful leadership quote to inspire

  • Leaders’ Library: What we’re reading this week

A curated community of leaders.

Strategic Summaries

A weekly roundup of the most interesting, useful and thought-provoking articles to help you be a better leader. This week we’re focusing on attention.

Training attention. Taking your mental capacity back from technology, from author Dr. Daniel Goleman.  

Our take: Our technology is so seductive, it is taking over our agency to choose where we focus.  

Dr. Goleman talks about three types of focus: inner (our thoughts and feelings), other (empathy and compassion for others) and outer (the larger forces shaping our lives). These are the places we put our awareness into.     

Mindfulness is one way to touch each of these areas – it helps you witness your inner world, it builds compassion for others, and it can shift your awareness of the wider world. 

And you choose where to direct your attention, instead of following what an algorithm chooses for you. 

Key takeaway: The opposite of mindfulness and related practices is bottom-up attention (e.g. phone scrolling and entertainment). These are passive, often mindless, and directed by someone else’s intentions. 


Distraction sickness. There’s a war for your attention, and you’re probably losing it. 

Our take: Not only are there multiple actors vying for your attention, but there’s an entire industry devoted to it, says author and Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu. 

He says that our voluntary attention control is naturally weak, leading to a vulnerability that this industry is happy to exploit. It’s based on involuntary cues from technology: we’re constantly being pulled away from what we intend to focus on. 

He calls those in the industry ‘merchants’ who harvest human attention and create platforms (e.g. websites and apps) that succeed commercially by capturing our attention (using their “free” platform) and then selling the attention they capture. 

Key takeaway: For this model to work, the audience needs to be distractible, and thus open to involuntary cues. If you want to oppose this media that can influence your brain unconsciously, you need to take back your attention.  


Regulating attention. This article helps leaders shape their attention and develop themselves

Our take: Distraction is a global problem, reducing our ability to focus, learn and be productive. Learning to regulate our attention, then, is paramount to many areas in our lives. 

We can learn to shape our attention with practice, building our capacity to grow as leaders. When we become more aware of where our attention lies, we can (re)direct it to where we want it to be. 

While the author of this article has set out a 6-step process for strengthening our attention, it essentially boils down to: setting an intention for our focus, reflecting on the experience afterwards (did it bring us closer to our goal?), and deciding how to adjust our actions in the future. 

Key takeaway: If the antidote to distraction is intention, then we can work on being more aware in our day-to-day lives. Where our attention goes, our awareness flows. 

Words of Wisdom

One weekly, impactful quote for leaders.

“Attention is the currency of leadership.”

– Ronald Heifetz

Leaders’ Library

Every week, we share an interesting long-form piece of content to contemplate.

Today we’re reading the book, Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise by Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz. 

This thought-provoking new book explores what silence is, what it means to lack silence, and how to turn down the sound in our loud lives. 

The authors are bold and convincing in their argument that we can, not only change our own lives by reclaiming the quiet, but actually repair the world. 

When we experience a moment of true silence (not always literal quiet) – like a winter walk in fresh snowfall or a period of flow in a creative pursuit – what we attain is pristine attention.  

It’s a space where nothing else is making a claim on our consciousness. This is what we need more of to have clarity, focus, and to be able to solve complex problems. 

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