Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Book Club: Wondering Why Your Attention Span Has Shrunk? Stolen Focus Has All The (Big, Scary) Answers

This month, we’re looking inward to feel better outward as we cook healthy, delicious meals and look at small changes we can make to improve our overall wellbeing. On the menu for this month’s book club? It’s Middle Eastern Honey Chicken with Roast Veggie Cauliflower Rice & Garlic Yoghurt, an easy, delicious and calorie-smart meal from HelloFresh that you can customise. Not feeling like chicken? Swap out the protein for pork. And since we’re focusing on our inner health as we move into spring, we’re reading the best-selling, ground-breaking and overwhelming (in a good way) book Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, which is here to help us reclaim our attention span and heal our digitally distracted brains and bodies.

Capsule X HelloFresh

You can tell how quickly the tips and statistics in Johann Hari’s phenomenal book Stolen Focus got to me, as I quickly got up to switch off my side lamp while reading it before bed, and hissed at my husband, ‘No more phones after 9pm!’ all within the first two days of reading it.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention is a Trojan Horse kind of a novel, as it starts off by asking the simple question – why is our attention span getting worse? – before delving into the multiple factors that are not only affecting our attention span, but our physical and mental health and overall sense of wellbeing. As someone who has read a LOT of self-help books over the pandemic years (‘tis the season), this is the one I want to read out with a loudspeaker to the entire world.

There are so many highlights from Stolen Focus but some of the most fascinating parts to me was a look at how modern life, capitalism and the internet have merged to create a society that sleeps far less than it used to, is consuming food of far less nutritional quality, is breathing in air with pollutants and – this is the big one – is spending hours a day on devices that are literally being designed to distract us at any given minute of our day.

Here are some stats from Stolen Focus that stood out to us:

– 40% of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived, getting less than the necessary minimum of seven hours sleep a night (how many of us also fit that definition?)

– Uninterrupted time in the workplace is becoming a rarity: one study found that most people working in an office never get a whole hour uninterrupted in an entire day.

– The average American worker is distracted once every three minutes.

– You know how we’ve all become obsessed with multi-tasking? It’s literally not possible for our brains, which are still built the way they were tens of thousands of years ago, and are only able to produce ‘one or two thoughts’ at one time. One study found that ‘technological distraction’ – getting calls, messages or emails – drops your IQ by an average of 10 points – twice the knock you get from smoking pot.

– Cellphones and social media have replaced reading as a leisure activity for so many people that some 57% of Americans now do not read a single book in a year.

– The way we read the internet – skimming for key words – has now become the way most of us read ANYTHING.

– An average child in the US, aged between 13 and 17, sends one message every six minutes they’re awake.

There are two chapters dedicated to the loss of attention span in children which are particularly disturbing – and also cover the rapid, rapid, rapid rise in ADHD diagnoses in recent years. As the book says, one of the greatest bits of hypocrisy coming out of Silicon Valley is that the designers create new technologies to appeal to children – and then ban their own children from using them. (Keep in mind that the creator of the iPad, Steve Jobs, didn’t allow iPads in his house, saying they were ‘too dangerous’ to be around his kids.)

So far, so depressing, right? But the book also offers practical solutions about how we can restore our own attention span and a wider look at how possible it is for these big companies to reverse the damage they have inflicted on us. It also offers the salient advice that the multitude of miseries we are currently facing as a society – exhaustion, burn-out, rise of fascism, lack of attention and lack of joy – are not personal failings, they are systemic issues created by a capitalist market that makes money off your problems and your anger.

Johann also writes that the sudden deep dive we all got into being completely reliant on technology during Covid has been an unexpected blessing, as so many of us realised how much we actually hated this set-up and needed to protect our screen-free times – something he argues wouldn’t have happened if we had just continued on our slow-burn trajectory. So now, we have a glimpse into what the big corporations want for us (to be on a screen, 24/7) and we have a chance to fight back. This book is the map on how.

Your HelloFresh bonus recipe for the month:

Middle Eastern Honey Chicken with Roast Veggie Cauliflower Rice & Garlic Yoghurt

(Serves two people)


1 leek

1 carrot

1 beetroot

A pinch of zesty chilli salt

3 cloves of garlic

320g of chicken breast (or 2x pork loin steaks (300g))

5g Ras El Hanout (or Moroccan seasoning if not available)

100g Greek style yoghurt

1 tsp honey

20g butter

250g cauliflower rice

5g chicken stock powder

60g baby spinach

Drizzle of white wine vinegar

If you have chosen to swap your protein for pork, follow the alternative steps below

Swap out the chicken for pork for an easy and healthy protein swap option!


1. Preheat oven to 220°C/200°C fan-forced. Thickly slice the leek, cut carrot into bite-sized chunks and cut beetroot into 1cm chunks. Place veggies on a lined oven tray. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of zesty chilli salt and toss to coat. Spread out evenly, then roast until tender, 25-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, finely chop garlic. In a medium bowl, combine chicken breast, ras el hanout or Moroccan seasoning, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. In a large frying pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook 1/2 the garlic until fragrant, 1 minute. Transfer garlic oil to a small bowl, then add Greek-style yoghurt and stir to combine. Season to taste.

Alternative recipe step:  If you’ve swapped to pork loin steak, combine pork with spice blend as above.

3.Return the frying pan to medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. When oil is hot, cook chicken until golden, 2 minutes each side. Transfer to a second lined oven tray, then top with the honey. Bake until cooked through and chicken is no longer pink inside, 10-12 minutes.

Alternative recipe step: Heat frying pan in the same way as above. When oil is hot, cook pork loin steaks until cooked through, 3-4 minutes each side (cook in batches if your pan is getting crowded). Top with honey and transfer to a plate, cover and rest for 5 minutes.

4. While the chicken is cooking, wipe out the frying pan and return to high heat with the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Cook cauliflower rice until softened, 2-4 minutes. Add chicken-style stock powder and remaining garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, then season with salt.

5. Add roasted veggies, baby spinach leaves and a drizzle of white wine vinegar to the cauliflower rice. Divide roast vege cauliflower rice between plates, then top with sliced Middle Eastern honey chicken. Serve with the garlic yoghurt and enjoy!

Alternative recipe step: Slice Middle Eastern honey pork.

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