How to Cultivate the Habit of Focus . . . . . in an Age of Distraction

The rest of us cracked open books here.

A certain little someone walked around with posies of pink erasers on the end of slim yellow stems.

We read about maple trees and conifers and the Canadian Shield and made the ivories sort of sound of mostly like Ode to Joy.



When I turned a page and read about the ceremonies of native Indians, the kid with the curls and the posy of pencils, she asks, “So, a ceremony is a dance then?” The way her voice rises with a question, it catches me everytime and I fall for her all over again.

“Well, yes — sort of.” She watches my face, seeing if she can find the answer before I say it. “I think — we create a ceremony to celebrate what’s significant.”

Levi, stretched across the couch, hanging half upside down off the arm, he unhooks Shalom’s arched eyebrows: “Like a marriage ceremony.”

Yes… like that. How do I explain this exactly? “If we consider a certain day meaningful, we create a ceremony to rightly recognize it — like always candles on birthday cakes, centerpieces for Thanksgiving, vows on wedding days.”

She lights, “Oh, I know. Like a habit. Something that you always do.” That tendril by her ear, it nods understanding. “Ceremony is what you always do for the important things.”

Yes — and it hits me : Every day is important.

Hadn’t I just said goodbye to a kid yesterday and didn’t I know it clearer than ever: Each moment God gives is momentous. If we embrace each day as gift, then isn’t each event important? And if each moment lived is important, could we not then live in ceremony, celebration wrapped around each bead of time?

God does this — lives in ceremony, lives in celebation. Every day, He acts in ceremony, repeated quotidian order of services: calling sun to arch across the sky, ocean waters lap against land’s lip, again and again, the globe to dance in orbit through the heavens.

God’s daily ceremonies bring order to the created world. And it’s our daily ceremonies that bring order to our chaotic world.

That’s the thing that needs doing: Create a habitual ceremony around an activity, and the focus is on ordering the environmentinstead of the children.

The order of service created around bedtimes, school times, mealtimes — it allows ceremonies to direct behavior…. instead of parents trying to correct behavior.

Children “want things repeated and unchanged,” writes G.K. Chesterton.

They always say, “Do it again”… [It is] grown-up people [who] are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon….

The repetition in nature may not be mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.” ~ Chesterton

If we chose to “exult in monotony,” to embrace habitual ceremony, would we be inviting the same God who instituted the observances of feasts, temple ceremonies, the service of communion, to be our strength too?

Perhaps the repetitiveness of ceremony does not stifle the Spirit — but invites the Spirit.

I try this, ceremonies around the simple:

Celebrate Breakfast: with quiet music, prayer for the day, and a lighting of a candle.

Celebrate Learning: with a habitual place, a consistent time, and an anticipated order of service: an opening hymn, a Word of Scripture, a prayer, the stack of books.

Celebrate Evening: read aloud of a classic while tired feet are massaged and hot drinks sipped — tucking children into bed with blessings.

It’s crazy — – start some ceremonies in your life and you start living a celebrated life.

It’s the ceremonies that change us: the single become married, the soul emerges baptized, the birthday christens another year.

it’s the ceremonies that change our everyday — christening every day as significant.




But the thing is: I want to read a book when I should be making dinner, check pinterest instead of pin another load of laundry on the line, clean the bedrooms when I should be doing science with the kids.

The thing is: Habits are hard but they make life easy.

The thing is: There are no habits without the habit of being focused. Ceremonies necessitate focus — no bride gets distracted half way down the aisle.

The thing is, it’s what Phelps said: Stay in the pool.

Michael Phelps said that the way he trained to be one of the greatest athletes of all time — was to stay in the pool longer than anyone else.

To stay at it when everyone else got out. To stay focused when you’d love to be distracted. To do the next thing when it’s not the easiest thing. To not flip over to Facebook or turn on the TV or check Twitter or pop into email.

The most successful are the ones most focused and the greats are greatly focused. There is never any fruit without focus.

At breakfast, I tell my teens the research I read:

“So, a study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment by 10 points.

This decrease is the equivalent of the effects from not sleeping for 36 hours—and exhibits more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.”

Joshua shakes his head, spoon of cream of wheat in hand. “Wow.”

Littlest Shalom pipes up from the end of the table. “I’m good, Mama. I only check my email once a month — really!” Her eyes look bigger than her bowl. The Farmer chuckles, reaches over to squeeze her hand.

In the evening, I can hear a son urge a brother downstairs: Stay. in. the. pool.

The children and I, we work at marking time by pomodoros. Make it a habit to time all screens with pomodoros. The habit of focus comes into focus.

Our oldest’s putting away his homework when I lean up against a door frame and ask him, “So what do you think they’re suggesting the new currency is in this “age of distraction” ?”

I ask him because he loves to unpack things. I ask him because he reads and thinks. I ask him because we all have to figure this out. I do realize I should qualify the expert “they.” I hope he doesn’t notice?

Caleb shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know.. the new currency…” He slides his economics book into his bag. “Paypal?”

“Not bad.” I grin, kid always with a tongue-in-cheek answer. “They’re thinking that: In an age of distraction — the real currency is attention. In a world of Facebook, it’ll be about who can focus. Whoever can pay attention — buys the advantage.

Everyone who lives with screens and multi-tasking and multi-tabbing knows it:

In an age of distraction: The itch to switch can give your life a rash.

“So it circles back to….” he looks up at me, looks like his focused father: “Stay. in. the. Pool.”

Yeah — that. It’s the modern day equivalency of Charles Dickens‘ words: “He did each single thing, as if he did nothing else.

I want to tell Chesterton:

God is strong enough to exult in monotony — and one needs God’s strength to exercise consistency.

When I sit in the haloed light of the hallway, kids tucked in and me reading another chapter of The Hobbit to a row of open doorways, I can feel the peace of the singular ceremony.

The virus of distraction is cured by the art of subtraction.

In the dimmed hallway light, everything falls away — and the focus is clear.

The Really Practical Post: 3 Ways to Really Make New Habits
Consider what’s helpful in this Infographic: How to Have the Habit of Focus in an Age of Distraction


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