Why It is Impossible For You To Focus


Learning has never been easy. It requires a long span of focus, as well as putting substantial hours of deep work.

Photo: Pexels

Does your typical day look something like mine?

If you’re like me, your typical day outside work will look something like this:

  • Watching Netflix, or, scrolling through the Netflix catalog
  • Wandering around the kitchen, looking for something to snack
  • Scrolling through pictures and videos on social media
  • Replying to text messages

Understanding what drives your behavior

When you start to scroll through Instagram or Twitter, or looking for videos to watch on YouTube, it may almost feel like muscle memory — you are aware of what you are doing, but it seems automatic.

Photo: Fauxels/Pexels

What is dopamine, and what is a dopamine loop?

Dopamine is a chemical released by our brains to motivate us in certain behavioral patterns. It works as a signalling feedback for predicting actions with certain rewards.

  • When an activity provides a rewarding feeling, body releases dopamine
  • Our brain then associates the release of dopamine with the “feeling of pleasure” and creates a reward system
  • We then assign activities with an emotional value to guide behavior and make split-second risk/reward assessments

The result is that we orientate toward activities that provide for this release of dopamine

Our primitive roots

Back when humans used to live in caves, and hunt in tribes, our reaction to dopamine was very much depended upon to increase our chances of survival

The problem(s) with dopamine in today’s environment

As explained earlier, our actions are largely orientated toward activities that provide for dopamine release.

The problem? With your smartphone, these activities are now easily accessible at your fingertips — a multitude of apps that provide you with bite-sized bits of novel content every other minute.

Each time you scroll through social media, you get a short release of dopamine. A few minutes later, you pick up your phone a few minutes later, and get another release of dopamine.

Illustrative Diagram: Dopamine loop

What happens when we try to slot in a new habit into our typical routine?

When we learn a new skill, the inertia is a lot, getting started isn’t easy. A lot of emotional resistance gets built up when we attempt, or even think about proceeding with the task.


To keep this post below a 5-minute read, I’ve limited my scope to address the “why” in our deficit of attention and focus, rather than the “how to” in tackling this issue.

  • Making access to unproductive dopamine releasing activities as difficult and as out of reach as possible
  • Channeling the release of dopamine to a more productive cycle for learning. This approach leverages on the “Winner Effect”.

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