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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.

  • Search Inside Yourself Free Meditations: Many free meditations exploring different ways to train our attention, compassion, gratitude and more


3. Ruthlessly cut out unwanted voices and information from your radar

Don't support sites and voices that pollute our cultural environment using clickbait and outrage. Pause and discern which ones those are to you and filter them out. Unfollow mainstream news outlets, ‘mute’ topics you don’t want to see. A wise man once said, “Effectiveness begins with elimination. Choose your ignorances as carefully as your interests.”


Claim your attention back now:

  • Unfollow outrage-chasing voices on Twitter → Use iUnfollow to clean up your Following. Start fresh and intentionally choose the voices you expose yourself to. 

  • Unfollow outrage driven Facebook Groups → Check your Groups > Settings > Following.

  • Remove sharply polarized media outlets from your news feed

  • Literally grab your notebook and make two columns: Energizers and Drainers. Then place all the things that feel energizing and true to you in the energizers column, and all the things in your life that drain you and do not leave you with a good feeling in the drainers column. Then step by step start removing, outsourcing or replacing the drainers, and invite more energizers into your life.


4. Turn off notifications


One quick thing to do is protect yourself from things that trigger us. Red is a strong trigger color that instantly can capture our attention. Reclaim your attention by turning off your notifications and prevent unwanted hijacks.

Claim your attention back now:

  • Go to Settings > Notifications, or swipe left on any incoming notification and hit Manage > Turn Off

5. Download helpful tools I know it might sound counterintuitive to use tech to fight the problematic aspects of tech, however tech can be both a distopia as well as a utopia. So let's leverage the beautiful things it has brought in our lives in order to fight the less effective aspects.

Claim your attention back now:

6. Follow voices you disagree with

The way Social media works is that it amplifies content we already agree with to optimize for engagement metrics, eroding our ability to also be exposed to and engage with those who hold different views. To solve some of current times' bigger issues like climate change, racial injustice or poverty, we have to keep being in conversation with people that hold all kinds of perspectives.

Claim your attention back now:

  • Check news sites whose perspectives you disagree withAllSides gives readers a cross-partisan view of world events covered by the media, and sustains itself on a consciously created hybrid revenue model to avoid bias and clickbait incentives.


7. Practice compassion It all starts with our inner world and how we meet our day to day situations. Social media profits from high engagement and therefore hate and anger loaded content will often surface due to its engaging nature. Let’s cultivate compassion rather than fighting fire with fire and inspire others in this way.

Claim your attention back now:

  • Pause → Remember there’s a real person behind the screen. Don’t be so quick to unfollow or publicly argue with someone who posts something you disagree with.

  • Be compassionate → Try a private message to ask why they feel that way, with genuine curiosity and a desire to understand.

8. Improve your emotional intelligence

This is universally a time of heightened emotions, with unprecedented levels of stress, overwhelm, isolation and disconnection. While many of these emotions are challenging, emotions are actually essential for decision-making and for connection, and when ignored we miss out on valuable information.


Put simply, emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of our own emotions, to manage them deliberately, and manage our relationships with empathy and compassion. Emotional intelligence (or EQ) includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. We can use mindfulness-based practices to train awareness as the foundation for our EQ competencies. 


Claim your attention back now:


9. Protect yourself by setting clear boundaries

Ask yourself where your relationship to technology usage is unhealthy and be dead honest with yourself. We use our devices and are exposed to news and news feeds from the moment we wake up till we put ourselves in bed at night.


I personally have literally made the simplest overview (see image) of the apps that are most likely to unwantedly hijack too much of my attention, using a mundane note app. I have tried using certain apps before, but this harsh self-monitoring and accountability has been revelatory to protect my own valuable time.

Claim your attention back now:

  • Clear your morning & evenings → Don't check your devices before you've done what's most important to you each morning (e.g. a routine, healthy nourishment, intention setting) and set clear bounded blocks of time without technology.Schedule them in your calendar if needed!

  • Device-free dinners → Play a game where the first person to check their device does the dishes.

  • Create a shared charging station at home → Charge your family's phones away from bedrooms overnight.

  • Buy a separate alarm clock → Wake up without getting sucked into your phone first thing in the morning.


10. Take tech detox breaks by fully disconnect for 1 day a week If possible, do a 2 day break once per month. Get back in touch with how you were enjoying life before devices became an integral part of it. It’s not only beneficial to yourself. Imagine if those around you did this, what would become possible?


Another thing I love to do is build in mini tech detoxes in my day. I do this for example when I am sitting at my laptop, by looking away from the screen at least once every 30 mintes for 1 or 2 minutes. I simply gaze at a fixed point in the distance, reconnect to my breath, body and ask myself the question: "What is important right now?".

Claim your attention back now:

  • Pick a date and let your friends and family know you’ll be offline → Ask them to do it with you by sharing this blog with them.

  • Take micro breaks/pauses in your day → Multiple times a day, simply stop with what you're doing, breathe, reconnect to what's most important and where needed, refocus

11. Be aware of negativity bias We have all been there. After something we have shared, we receive over 50 positive comments, but also 1 negative one. You will probably remember that somehow most of your attention was captured by the negative comment. Our survival-biased brains tend to focus on the negative, even after we turn away from our tech.

Claim your attention back now:

  • Take screenshots of the positive messages you receive to store in a folder on your phone → Let the rest go. Tech warps how our brains receive feedback, and we can fight back by remembering the positive.

  • Practice cultivating gratitude for others and using technology to share your love Send a special video to a friend with Tribute or Montage.


12. Journal


Take notice of what you spend most of your time thinking about, what you observe around you, and how others act and react. Take 5 min every (other) day to reflect and journal on some powerful questions. You can journal at the end of a day about which things energized you most that day, and which things felt most draining. You can journal at the start of a day on what would make this a great day for you and what your key intentions are, and much more.


Claim your attention back now:

  • 11 tips for people who have a stronge resistance to regularly journal

  • 30 powerful journaling questions to pick from and get started


To conclude


I hope that you have found some useful tools and methods here that can help you to claim back YOUR attention, so that you can focus ever more on those things that are most important and true to you. At the minimum, I hope you have gotten some inspiration out of this blog post. I'm very curious to hear from you, so please do reach out! I will leave you with one book if you would like to go deeper in claiming your attention back; How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell.


I have worked with many people to stay true to what matters most to them, by accompanying them in their journeys, truly believing in them, holding them accountable and not buying into the false stories and fears they tell themselves. Do reach out to me if this is something you feel called to. The hardest part is to reach out for help, I've got you from there.



Sources of inspiration and images: Unsplash.com, Siyli.org, humanetech.com, highexistence.com.

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