Are You an Attention Addict?

“We are forgetting how to be bored.”

At a stop light, we pull out our smartphones to check social media, the weather…something! In a doctor’s office waiting room with nothing to read but mussed copies of Us Weekly or CatFancy, we pull out our smartphones to email, to connect, to remind people we exist. We are, in essence, training our brains to crave attention at every opportunity, teaching them that any time idling must be avoided at all costs, ignoring those moments in between events where incredible discoveries patiently await us. I know I’m guilty of it.

After paying attention to this behavior for a while, I noticed that while walking my dog–as she does her business–I pull out my phone and check Instagram or email. I don’t have the wherewithal to remain in the current moment while she answers nature’s call?! Not ideal. (I’ve since made a conscious effort not to do this.)

I’ve been really interested in the topics of focus and productivity lately. Mostly to be a more productive writer–at home and at work, but it applies to all kinds of heads-down, focused work. I’m obsessed with the The Sweet Setup. It’s a website that recommends the best of all kinds of apps for iPhone, iPad and Mac. The creator of the site is a guy named Shawn Blanc–who has done extensive research on these topics and offers a course on focus I’m considering taking.

He gave a free webinar about focus, productivity and workflows for writers or anyone who needs deep focus. (You can watch it here.) One thing that struck me was how he plainly spelled out that we’ve forgotten how to be bored–as I illustrated above. That may not sound like a loss, but it is. It’s usually in those quiet, introspective moments of boredom where solutions are discovered; where problems are solved. As we train our minds that unfocused boredom is bad, we lose the ability to make those ever-important discoveries.

As a writer, sitting down at my computer to create content is all at once exciting, life-affirming, terrifying and boring–at least the first five minutes. And difficult moments of trying to think of how to craft what I’m writing almost inevitably result in the myriad of distractions that maniacally and vindictively tap me on the shoulder. “I should be writing, but I’ve always been curious about the house they used for the external shots on The Brady Bunch. I must research it!”

Oh. Wait. I already did. In 2008.

See? Distraction!

In the HurrySlowly Podcast, guest–writer and technologist Craig Mod–talks about how social media apps are lulling us into “attention slavery” and how short digital detox retreats and/or meditation sessions can “defrag your mind” so that you can deploy your attention more consciously and more powerfully. Though I’m unconvinced a ten-day retreat with no technology or even pen and paper–just being alone with yourself–is something that most people would have the opportunity to do, I do think there are smaller things we can do to be truly conscious–and mindful–and step away from the “always on” world in which we live.

I’m not suggesting throwing your smartphone into the nearest dumpster and making your way off the grid. What I am saying is, though we’re lucky to have so many tools to help us connect to each other–resulting in our success–it’s the times I call “in between” that are just as important–maybe more so–at least for our sense of self and the discoveries that lie ahead of–and within–us. Those tiny moments are the ones filled with gratitude for the sounds of your child sleeping, your dog snoring, hygge in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, to the feeling of child-like wonder as puffed snowflakes surrender themselves from the sky around you. They’re magical, transcendent, significant.

Since Ken’s death after a two-year battle with cancer in 2011, I notice those tiny, quiet, “in between” and seemingly unremarkable moments more than I ever could have before. I was lucky enough to excavate a gift in loss–after digging around for a while. Like an emotional archaeologist, I’m compelled to share it: there is a part of me that can’t help but shift into neutral at times and let my mind wander or my nose smell or my ears listen or my lips smile or my voice giggle or–most often–my hand scribble. Our lives and our worlds are hectic. I encourage you to take advantage of those tiny “in between” moments by stepping away from your smartphone and social media to experience the magic–at least daily.

Without exception, you won’t regret it.



Leave a Reply