Are you paying attention? I mean like, really paying attention? The truth is, you’re probably not. Don’t worry, I don’t take it personally. The restless mind – lurching from thought to thought, witnessing helplessly as entire days ebb away – is the default mode most of us are running on these days.
You know how it goes; you open your laptop purposefully, brimming with resolve and caffeine, determined to finish that client proposal you know shouldn’t take more than an hour. An hour and a half later…you’ve narrowed it down to three fonts, partially drafted two completely unrelated emails, created a new Pinterest board (Dream Interior – the ‘tropical climate and my future partner is an artist’ edition), bought a NutriBullet, and watched three dozen Instagram stories from people you don’t remember following.
The good news? You’re not alone. The bad news? You’re not alone.
Today the average office worker checks their email 30 times an hour, whilst typical smartphone users unlock their devices every 12 minutes (almost double the amount we think we do). No surprise then that sustained focus on a single task (let alone flow state) is proving so elusive; distraction has become so habitual that we’re even seeking it out during the brief moments it isn’t seeking us!
Infinite scroll and auto-play are not your friends.
It’s an open secret that the drive for engagement (and cold hard cash) has led marketers and big tech companies to use increasingly insidious tactics to harvest our attention and manipulate our behaviours. The cross-breeding of powerful technologies with psychological insights from behavioral economics has levelled up the attention game with a ruthless new efficiency.
*Cue phantom vibration*
Wait, what was I just saying? Oh yeah, so stunted attention spans are basically an inescapable epidemic of our internet-addicted millennial age, right? Meh, not exactly.
Contrary to the much cited, but scientifically unfounded, statistic that our attention spans have shrunk to less than that of the common goldfish, the problem isn’t that we have less attention to go around (how do you even measure that?), but that we now have infinitely more voices vying for it. ‘Read me – watch me – play me – like me – share me – buy me’, insists the cyber siren song, and we do, daily – at times abashedly aware of our own compliance, other times obliviously labouring under the delusion of multitasking.
These unrelenting distractions are often misaligned with our personal goal-setting and consequently keep us from paying attention to much of the stuff we actually give a shit about in our lives.
So, what’s a girl to do? Well, just because we know what’s up, we’re not about to go flinging our smartphones into the ocean, and nor should we. But we can take actions to turn the tide in our favour, find some balance, and refocus on what matters most.
7 Tips for TAKING BACK CONTROL of your attention:
1. Manage Your Screen Time
Know how many minutes you spent on social media this week? It’s time to find out. Apps like Freedom allow you to monitor and ration your usage of distracting apps, empowering you to use them with increased awareness and control.
2. Spend Time in Nature
Whether it’s a mountain hike or a stroll in your nearest park, time outdoors lifts our mood, contributes to physical wellbeing, and gives much needed rest to our frazzled attention.
3. Customise your Alerts
Take a moment to go into your account settings (FB, Insta, email etc.) and disable all notifications that aren’t absolutely essential – be ruthless, cut out the noise.
4. Set Your Daily Intentions
Don’t let whatever pings first dictate your day. YOU design your day. Avoid all screens for the first 20 mins after you wake up, when the mind is most malleable. With a pen and paper write down what would make today a really good day (aspects within your control – not winning the lottery). It could include tasks you want to achieve, people or places you’d enjoy seeing, particular emotions you’d like to cultivate or things you’re grateful for. You’re the author – put some intention behind your attention.
5. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Improved mental focus is just one of a heap of benefits to be gained from incorporating regular meditation practice into your life. Find a style/teacher that resonates with you and start with just 5 minutes a day (seriously) then build the habit gradually until you can sit for 20 mins or more.
6. Be Present with Others
Meet for some quality IRL time with a friend. Put your phone on silent, out of sight and out of reach. Give them your full attention. Whoever checks their phone first pays for lunch.
7. Feng Shui Your Screens
Declutter your desktop and re-order your apps to make the distracting ones harder to access. Try moving all social apps to a folder a couple of swipes along from the home screen and install a free bookmark manager like Start.me to help streamline all your browsing.
Image: Elda Broglio
Cam is a wordsmith, futurist and human curious about consciousness, science, spirituality, tech, ethics, wellbeing and a bunch of other stuff that might give a clue as to just what the heck is going on. Asks a lot of questions, occasionally attempts answers.