Why Is It So Hard to Focus? 7 Factors Explained

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Stolen Focus" by Johann Hari. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is it so hard to focus? What external factors are making it hard to concentrate?

In Stolen Focus, Johann Hari cites seven reasons why it’s so hard to focus. These factors are outside of your control and contribute to the attention crisis we’re living in.

Discover the seven factors below to see if any of them are affecting you.

The Factors Contributing to the Attention Crisis

Why is it so hard to focus? Hari explores the reasons or factors contributing to the attention crisis. He discusses seven factors that Hari believes are undermining our ability to focus: the failure to explore ADHD’s underlying causes, the lack of play in children’s lives, sleep deprivation, toxins in our food and environment, distracting technology, information overload, and too much emphasis on personal responsibility to solve attention problems.

Factor #1: Failure to explore ADHD’s causes: The first factor contributing to the attention crisis is how we treat ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which describes children’s inability to concentrate. Hari believes we’re not addressing it effectively. Too often, the reaction to children diagnosed with ADHD is to medicate them instead of addressing the underlying reasons and solving them.

Hari points out that ADHD numbers have climbed over the past few decades. Today, 13% of teenagers in the US have an ADHD diagnosis, and many of them take stimulants to manage it.

Factor #2: Not enough time and space for kids to play: The second factor contributing to the attention crisis also affects children. Hari believes that how children spend their time contributes to rising levels of difficulty in paying attention.

Factor #3: Not enough sleep: The third factor contributing to the attention crisis is sleep deprivation. Hari believes we’re not getting enough sleep, and it’s diminishing our ability to focus.

Hari argues that sleep deprivation is not an isolated problem. The average sleep time an adult gets each night is an hour less than it was at the beginning of the 20th century. For children, the lost sleep time amounts to an hour and 25 minutes. (Shortform note: The percentage of adults sleeping significantly less than the recommended seven hours a day is so high that the CDC declared it a public health epidemic.)

Hari cites two possible explanations for widespread sleep deprivation:

  1. Artificial light. Evolution made humans sensitive to light, but artificial lights interfere with our programming. Earlier humans would rise with the sun and go to sleep by sunset, but they also got a second wind around four in the afternoon, just as the sun began to set. That helped them reach safety or finish tasks before sunset. Now, Hari says, we don’t notice that change in natural light because we rely on artificial lighting. We still get that second wind but later in the evening, when we’re supposed to be getting ready for sleep.
  2. Consumer capitalism. Sleep deprivation fuels the economy. Our economy relies on people consuming and producing as much as possible, and that can only happen while they’re awake.

Factor #4: Too many harmful chemicals: The fourth factor contributing to the attention crisis also disrupts the normal functions of our brains. According to Hari, toxins disrupt our brain’s chemistry and make it harder to focus.

Factor #5: Too much distracting technology: The fifth factor contributing to the attention crisis is technology. Hari argues that the technology we rely on tracks our every move and tailors the content we see to keep us hooked.

Factor #6: Too much information, too fast: The sixth factor Hari identifies as contributing to the attention crisis is information overload, which makes it difficult to focus long enough to process what we’re seeing and hearing.

Factor #7: Too much emphasis on individual responsibility: The final factor contributing to the attention crisis is how we’ve attempted to deal with it. Hari believes the solutions put forward for the attention crisis are lacking because they focus on personal responsibility.

Why Is It So Hard to Focus? 7 Factors Explained

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Johann Hari's "Stolen Focus" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Stolen Focus summary :

  • The seven factors causing the current attention crisis
  • Johann Hari's three-part solution to gaining your attention back
  • Why society needs to change, not just individuals

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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