Concentration is at a premium in an increasingly distracted world. And this is why writing a book is so difficult for the busy professional. Writing a book requires long periods of distraction-free thinking-time, focus, and solitude.
Author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, termed Flow as a state of hyper-concentration where we lose all sense of time. We become what we do. Focus or distraction become habitual. But concentration is a skill we can develop with practice. An incremental approach works well. On the other hand, constant interruptions weaken our ability to focus and to think through complexity. When it comes to concentration it’s a case of use it or lose it.
Uninterrupted solitude is necessary for writing anything thoughtful. But not everyone can tolerate being alone with their thoughts.
The seventeenth-century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said something to the effect that most of life’s evils arise from people not being able to sit still in a room. To test whether people could sit quietly in a room researchers at the University of Virginia conducted a shocking study.
First, they asked the participants if they would pay money to avoid an electric shock. Those who answered yes, sat alone in a lab room for 15 minutes. They had no distractions save for a button that would self-administer an electric shock.
Rather than sit quietly for a quarter of an hour with no distractions, 25 percent of the women and 67 percent of the men chose to shock themselves. Some participants self-administered repeated shocks. For this group, boredom is more excruciating than a jolt of volts.
Temperament and solitude
Being with ourselves is painful for many of us. We’d rather pick up our smartphones. It seems any distraction is better than being present. According to a 2013 Harris Interactive study, 9 percent of respondents check their phones during sex.
It takes a certain temperament to enjoy solitude. That doesn’t mean that same person who likes their own company can’t be gregarious. It may help. Individuals have preferences. But entrepreneurs and writers often have different temperaments. One lives the active life and the other the contemplative life.
And sometimes that can be a match made in heaven.