Ladies and Gentlemen, can I have your attention?
I said ATTENTION
Google makes billions of dollars by grabbing tiny pieces of it from the periphery of your web experience. Other marketers make their living by capturing it through billboards, magazines, newspapers, the television and prevalent logos.
I’m asking you for yours for a moment now, politely.
See how long you can remain focused. Can you read through this article without getting distracted? Your own brain is often unable to give attention, even when it wants to. Meditators seek it for longer than the few seconds we can normally last without drifting off.
Attention is perhaps one of the most sought-after commodities today, as well as one of the most valuable things you possess. In any moment, individuals can fix their attention on many thoughts, objects or people. That attention might be deliberate, or, as is so often the case, we might not be able to control the wandering thoughts of our monkey mind.
It is uncanny how receptive society is to messaging – or put another way, how unable we are to avoid having our attention grabbed. Presidential elections are usually won by those who spend the most money on marketing. Film quality is often less important than marketing spend, in terms of box office success.
Are we really such basic creatures that we cannot stay true to our beliefs when barraged with messaging? Why, just because we hear more of something, are we more likely to believe it? Are we really so simple?
In his book Affluenza, Oliver James examines the phenomena that those countries whose inhabitants have a higher rate of television viewing are more likely to suffer emotional distress because they become less happy with their lives.
I want to make two principal points about attention, for your attention:
The first is how often and how much of our attention is grabbed, rudely, by others. Think about the way you use your phone or computer. How often do you switch among applications, programs and messages?
How can you wrest your attention back so you remain in control?
With the power of focus, we can move the mind across countless kaleidoscopes and choose the things we do and don’t pay attention to. We can be in control, but also out of control.
My own methods include switching off my phone, removing all notifications, not reading newspapers or magazines, not having the Internet on my mobile device, leaving myself invisible on skype, refusing all newsletters, and turning off the Internet while I’m writing.
None leave me feeling disconnected – each helps me stay attuned to the moment. Figure out where to focus your attention and what to ignore.
The second is the power of focused attention. If you can harness your attention, it is surprising how much more can be extracted from the same experiences.
Too often I find myself unable to enjoy the moment I am experiencing because of my wandering mind, or inability to give 100% of myself to that moment. When I do, life is usually richer, brighter and more powerful.
My midyear resolution is to try to focus on the book I’m reading when I’m reading it, writing to you when I’m writing, walking when I’m walking. By training my mind to enhance my ability to focus that attention on the moment, rather than remaining lost in thoughts, I’m convinced that my life will be fuller and freer.
I’ll share my experiments in due course. Do share any tips you have in the meantime for staying focused. Zen Habits has a good section on focus.
Just remember that a second, minute or hour that passes can never be regained – so choose the focus of your attention wisely.
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