In a noisy, distracting world, you often give your attention away. Sometimes it’s taken away. Either way, you’re paying.
Consistent with a financial fundamental, pay yourself first. Invest more of your attention into yourself. You’ll appreciate the benefits.
Per science (easy read, better read), spending more time in the absence of noise and distraction will:
- Grow new brain cells that become functioning neurons
- Increase self-reflective thought that’s deeper and more creative
- Reduce overall stress and tension
- Improve cognitive performance (reading attention, memory, problem solving)
But competition for your attention is high.
Especially when your awareness or will is low.
Here in this post: one new trend that further increases that competition, a fundamental concept behind creative thought, and a caution to be intentional about silence and reflection.
Why It’s Hard to Pay Attention to Yourself
Beeps and buzzes. Alarms and alerts. Videos and voices.
HD screens in our pockets, purses, and hands. Moving images in our social feeds with one tap for sound. Every reminder pushed straight to our wrists.
Thank god no one actually calls you on the phone anymore.
Here, I’ve only mentioned our “phones,” tablets, and watches … the “smart” ones. Of course, our immediate environments are full of incessant noise and distraction from a growing variety of sources. Some of it’s ambient, but much of it’s intentional.
This is because your attention is valuable.
Other people in your life need and want it. And many businesses need and want it, too. The media industry is built on getting your attention and selling it to others who want to sell you their products and services.
“OK, Google” or “Hey, Alexa”
The specific “attention” language I’m using here is motivated by a very good and recent read – Crushing It: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence by Gary Vaynerchuk. The increasing competition and increasing value of our finite attention was better addressed nearly 20 years ago in the first two chapters of Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, but Vaynerchuk today amps up the urgency.
A vision drawn in the final chapter of Crushing It grabbed my attention by the throat …
“I day-trade attention, and lately I am particularly interested by what people pay attention to during the transitions of their day, especially the three that occur in the home: what they do during the first fifteen minutes of their morning, the first fifteen minutes after they come home from work, and the last fifteen minutes before they go to sleep at night.”
In this chapter, he’s talking about new voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assitant. By speaking to an assistant-enabled device, you can get information, buy things, play music, turn on programming, control other devices, and much more.
Helpful and powerful. Tech that’s in its infancy and full of promise. An easy and seductive way to pay out more attention more often.
“Voice-first platforms are going to allow us to fill our brains during all the interstices of our lives, those blips of time that used to be lost to forgettable activities like brushing our teeth, sorting through mail, or even checking our phone notifications.”
A personal assistant with an increasing ability to bring you whatever you want whenever you want … the promise is sound (literally and figuratively).
But, like anything, it requires a responsible, thoughtful approach. And some moderation.
As I reflected on this idea of filling my brain during all my days’ transitions, I recognized a resistance to it. And I wondered why. What was I feeling protective of? And, while walking around or brushing my teeth, I remembered a powerful podcast episode I’d heard a couple years ago.
Why to Pay Yourself First
I’ll never suggest that you shouldn’t ask a digital assistant for tomorrow’s weather while you’re brushing your teeth. Asking for a motivational nugget from your favored thought leader while you put together a lunch to take to the office can set you up for a better day. I listen to podcasts regularly.
But those interstices throughout our days are too valuable to be rendered forgettable and filled right up with media consumption. Even if only a couple minutes in duration and even if you never notice, those transitions benefit us when we leave them open.
Your brain needs these spaces. It needs breathing room. It needs opportunities to make sense of all the external stimuli it consumes.
These moments of processing and synthesis are where our brain creates meaning and value. For work and play. For ourselves and others.
A couple years back, I wrote about job automation and minimum wage hikes. One of the obvious divides between jobs to be automated and jobs for humans is in deeper, more abstract, and more creative thought.
So, you can’t afford to spend time or pay attention without at least minimum, measurable intention. The technology makes it so easy to fill them up, though, that you must stay mindful.
Creativity and the Everyday Brain
This section header is the title of a great episode of On Being hosted by Krista Tippett and featuring neuropsychologist Rex Jung.
To illustrate the interaction of ideas in brainstorming and creativity, Jung describes linguist and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky‘s interactions with physicists in Building 20 at MIT.
Serendipity. Unplanned encounters and unexpected conversations. Sparks to think differently. All as a result of walking down the hall to get a glass of water. As Jung tells it …
“Look at this person that I ran into. And an idea is merged with another idea and it’s novel, it’s useful, it’s relevant. So I think that’s how it works in the physical space, and that’s a nice analogy for how I think it’s working in brain space.”
That, by the way, is the definition of creativity – an idea that’s novel, useful, and relevant.
To input raw material, consumption is necessary; we do need to pay attention to external stimuli including videos, podcasts, and other forms of assistant-triggered programming.
But we also need downtime and space to produce creative thought. We need quiet. We need to pay attention to ourselves. To reflect. – to our own thoughts and feelings. In Jung’s words …
“There is downtime where your brain is not engaged in ongoing cognitive activity. Even exercise is a way to do that where, you know, you’re just working your body, but you’re not working your cognitive resources, and it induces this workspace for you to meander around and put ideas together.
“And everyone knows the trick that works for them, the shower in the place or the yoga class or some people drink [laughs]. It’s a lot of ways to get there, but a lot of people know — creative people, in particular — know what trick works for them to get away.
“And for your children, to get back to your question, that’s an important space to cultivate, that recess from knowledge acquisition. You have to have the raw materials in place to put together, but you also have to have the time to put them together.”
Recess. Another apt analogy. We needed then and we need it now. For our both our bodies and our minds.
Give yourself the time and space to reflect; pay yourself first. This requires intention and involves the absence of distraction and interruption. Even if only for minutes at a time.
One way I create this space is by listening to a podcast or to music on the way up or out on a hike or run, then listening to nothing but myself on the way down or back.
As Jung said to Tippett, you know the trick that works for you. And as the seduction of technology and the ease of access to programming call for your attention, be aware. When you fail to give your brain its space, those valuable connections between disparate ideas and those natural consequences of mental downtown are at risk.
On Being (Human)
The On Being project was created to “pursue deep thinking and social courage, moral imagination and joy, to renew inner life, outer life, and life together.”
Hear the podcast episode mentioned and quoted above by clicking here.
Read and hear more from On Being by clicking here.
Additional Posts about Gary Vaynerchuk
Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk: Hard Work Trumps All
Gary Vaynerchuk on Being a Good Human
Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk: What It Looks Like Off the Page
About the Photos
All the photos are my own. See more at Instagram and Flickr. See the most algorithmically interesting images here.