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Claiming Our Attention Back

I’m sure many of you have seen the recent Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma”. If you haven’t, I highly recommend you to give it a go to find out how it connects to your life and to important societal issues bigger than our selves.

Regardless of your position in the discussion what is true here and what the most skillful way to address this is, one thing that I'm sure many of you would agree on is that what is being addressed in the documentary connects to two of the most important things we have in life: our time and our attention.

This has been an important topic for me for some time now, and the momentum that The Social Dilemma created felt like a great opportunity to bring this into the conversation. To share some of the methods and tools I have developed over the years in combination with some ideas of others that have served me well. With the intention to increase both our indiviual as well as collective ability to put our attention on things that really matter.

At first, it may not be fully clear to understand the problem here. After all, ‘multitasking’ and busyness have become something of status symbols these days. Your ability to hop from one task to the next seamlessly is almost worthy of being on your resume. In fact, it’s listed as a requirement in most job descriptions these days.

But here’s the key question: do you do this because you want to, or because it’s all that you can do?

Can you sit and perform a single task for an hour? Half an hour? 10 minutes?

It’s becoming increasingly unlikely. Is this the direction we want to go? To be very literally confined to our glass boxes, unable to hold anything in working memory and focusing only on what is beeping the loudest at us?

A focused mind is an underlying mechanism for most pleasurable experiences in life. In almost any desirable and pleasurable situation, the mind is focused. Sharp. Your attention rests only in the present moment, and only on the single experience. Attention is a scarce resource these days.

Do not pander it away. Do not give it away unconsciously. Use it wisely. If we cannot focus, we cannot synthesize information, we cannot formulate ideas, we cannot understand that we are slowly sleepwalking towards a life that feels empty, unfulfilled and meaningless.

One of the quotes I personally really love, connected to this topic is the following one:

"There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls." ~ Howard Thurman

Certainly, rigorously examining the external and changing our societal set-up, economy incentives, business models, governmental regulations are crucial things. However, the most direct thing we can do starting now as individuals is addressing the internal side of things by looking at how we relate to what happens, and where we put our attention. And the more individuals take this path, the more it will gradually impact our collective consciousness.

To give you an idea of how much of our collective attention is going into technology, here is some data on how much happens within 1 internet minute!

So what can we as individuals do?

If we all make choices that reflect the technology we want to see in the world, we can regain control and together change the way technology is built. Grab a friend or family member today and join the movement by starting with your own devices. Don’t just stick to your default unhelathy habits rethink and rewire your relation to technology. As a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Facilitator, I love using mindfulness, emotional intelligence and neuroscience as a foundation to do this. Together with some other intentional actions we can come a long way. Here are some invitations for you to consider: ‍

1. Treat your time and attention as sacred

As discussed above, your time and attention are the most valuable things you have in life, but somehow we don't often treat it that way. As an example, if someone asked us for $20, they’d need a good reason. And yet we so easily give away 20 minutes of our time to anyone who will smile and nod. You are only given a limited number of time and attention each day and you cannot earn more of it — it’s a non-renewable resource. Your time and attention are intensely sacred. Treat it as such.

2. Train your mind.

Practice mindfulness meditation, ideally daily. Learn to access and hold your focus. Improve your capacity to have access to that space between stimulus (e.g. a notification/email) and your response, in which your freedom to choose the wisests most skillful response lies. Lose this access and you will fall back on old habits and emotional reactivity which is often not the most effective and wise choice. Zone in on what matters, every week, every day and every moment.

Claim your attention back now:

  • Calm: Leading meditation app helps you reduce anxiety by creating calm and stress-free time in your day.

  • Insight Timer: Online community for meditation featuring guided meditations, music and talks posted by contributing experts.

  • Headspace: Zone in on what matters most with a meditation practice that focuses on your progress and improved well-being over time.