Fanatic Focus vs. Distraction Disorder

Posted on: June 30th, 2014 by Hayim Herring


I recently read an article, “Feeling More Antsy and Irritable Lately? Blame Your Smartphone.” One of its authors, Nicholas Carr, noted: “Back in 2006, a famous study of online retailing found that a large percentage of online shoppers would abandon a retailing site if its pages took four seconds or longer to load. In the years since then, the so-called Four Second Rule has been repealed and replaced by the Quarter of a Second Rule. Studies by companies like Google and Microsoft now find it takes a delay of just 250 milliseconds in page-loading for people to start abandoning a site. ‘Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,’ a top Microsoft engineer said in 2012. To put that into perspective, it takes about the same amount of time for you to blink an eye.”


If he’s right that means many of us have attention spans about as long as the blink of an eye!


I’m not sure if the American Psychological Association has come up with a name for our collective impatience and inability to focus, so let me suggest Distraction Disorder.





Around the same time that I read this article, I was also reading Great by Choice, by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen, where they identify “fanatic discipline” as one of the qualities of great leaders. Here’s how they define fanatic discipline: “Discipline, in essence, is consistency of action—consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time….True discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to conform in ways incompatible with values, performance standards, and long-term aspirations” (p.21)—in other words, staying hyper-focused even when the crowd suggests that you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Or, as we say in Hebrew, being meshuga la’davar.


I see one of the primary roles of religious leaders today as helping communities remain focused on things that ultimately matter–personally, to our families, communities and the broader world.


And I’m putting myself to the test. So far, my co-editor, Ellie Roscher, and I, and publisher, Avenida Books, are on schedule to release Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education in December 2014. We are very thankful to those who responded to the call for essays that we put forth last January and more information will follow in the months ahead about this incredibly exciting project. Tight timeline, but we’re going to do our best to keep our focus. And, I signed a contract for another book last week with Rowman and Littlefield about the future of faith-based organizations (and organizations that have their roots in religious communities even if they’re not explicitly religious). Scheduled publication date: October 2015.


It’s way too easy for me to be distracted, only to look back over a stretch of time and admit that I could have accomplished more. So my goal is to the up the bar on my capacity to be fanatically focused on researching and presenting about issues that can hopefully contribute to the vitality of faith-based communities and the broader non-profit sector.


We all need to play and to enjoy life with family and friends. (My one other goal that requires a different kind of discipline is to keep working at improving as an amateur trumpet player—a goal more difficult for me than researching and writing!) But I hope that we can try harder to rein in distraction disorder and ask more frequently, “What’s my fanatic focus?”



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