A man trying to read a book while he has lots of distractions

It’s hard to Focus and Read

I love to read, but getting started is always hard. My brain won’t turn off, and when I do manage to sit down with a book, I find myself getting up a few minutes later to check on something – anything. There’s a real resistance to focused work. This morning, when I started my book, I felt the usual distractions and it got me thinking about Viktor Frankl’s Existential Vacuum.

Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, realized that “Free Time” is a new concept for us. As a human race, we’re not used to having excess time for indulgences like reading books. Up until a few generations ago, most human activity was spent on getting food, maintaining shelter, fighting disease, and protecting yourself from threats. Modernity has brought so much convenience, that we now have the free time to face our existential fears.

We have countless options for distracting ourselves. We’re saddled with the decision, “What should I do with my life?” It’s an existential question, and Frankl saw the danger. With so many options, we’re overwhelmed by choice and we feel a lack of purpose. You might say, “There’s so much to do, and I don’t know where to start. Maybe I’ll just binge-watch Netflix and tackle my goals tomorrow.” This vacuum sucks the meaning out of life.

It’s also why reading a book in your free time can be a challenge. You want to grow and learn, but you’re pulled in many directions, lulled by your interests and obligations. In Ernest Becker’s book, The Denial of Death, he points out that we’re afraid to reach for the stars because we might get hurt in the process. Instead of living well, we live protected by surrounding ourselves with defense mechanisms and mediocrity. Combine this psychological dread with Frankl’s vacuum and you’ve got a recipe for modern-day anxiety and depression.

Here’s my promise: If you build a daily reading habit, the first ten minutes will likely be a mess, but then your muscles will loosen, your brain will give in, and the vacuum will let go. The distractions will quiet down and you’ll find your mental freedom. It’s exhilarating. Be patient as a reader and you will be rewarded.

Until tomorrow, read slowly, take notes, and apply the ideas.


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