The War for Our Attention –
Most of us stay stressed out battling a uniquely modern disease – INFORMATION OVERLOAD.
In order to understand how to deal with information overload, we need to see we’re not just victims of this disease. We’re actually information addicts. We feed our information addiction by obsessively engaging with Facebook and Twitter updates, emails, news feeds, gossip and opinions, images and headlines. We live with all of our notification settings on full alert and maximum volume. No wonder our brains are overloaded!
Your brain is an astoundingly intelligent and resourceful organ, and its brilliance has evolved over many millennia.
It evolved to cope, however, with circumstances that are totally different from the circumstances we face today. Our ancestors didn’t have to process as much information as we’re now able to access. They woke up, did some hunting, gathering or farming, enjoyed the customs of their community, and then went to bed. It’s not that they didn’t have problems, of course, but information overload wasn’t one of them.
In other words, our brains are not designed to process the amount of impressions that are heaped on them in our modern world.
Left to our own devices, we simply don’t know how to deal with information overload. Drat!
To make matters worse (don’t worry, there’s good news coming), the more fragmented our attention gets, the more our habit of distraction grows. That makes us feel even more fragmented, which then feeds our habits of distractibility… you get the idea. It’s a pretty negative cycle. We usually don’t even realize this is happening. We just feel a vague, perpetual sense of foggy disorientation.
Win the Battle
Luckily (now the good news), we have an inborn freedom available to us that can save us from wrecking our brain circuitry: we are always free to be mindful of the present moment. Yet, even though that option is always available, we must practice being mindful so that it becomes a habit.
There are two primary ways to really tune into the moment and receive everything it has to offer us.
- The first way is to allow our attention to be filled by present-moment sensations (which we’ll cover in a future post).
- The second way is to refrain from getting seduced by the stuff that draws us out of the present moment. And one such major distraction is – you guessed it – INFORMATION.
Here’s an excellent way to both break the bad habit of information addiction and strengthen the good habit of being mindful. It’s called:
The Hour-a-Day Information Fast
Step 1. Schedule Your Hour of Information Fasting
Pick any hour of your day and for its duration commit to ignoring any and all information that is not directly relevant to your present work or activity.
Step 2. Disable All Distractions
Turn off all electronic devices that are not directly related to your present task: computers, cell phones, etc. If your task requires being on your computer, this means closing all programs and windows not relevant to what you’re doing. Disable any automatic alerts – you should even disable your wifi connection if possible. Hang a sign on your door that says “Unavailable until X o’clock.” It’s only an hour, you can do it, and the world can manage without you.
Step 3. Time Yourself
Set an alarm for one hour. Don’t stop your activity until the hour is complete. When you notice yourself itching to check an update of some sort, or gossip with your friend or coworker who just stopped by, politely tell yourself or your friend that you’re occupied. Then, gently return your attention to your chosen activity.
What to Expect
This may seem like common sense advice – and that’s because it is. Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, I don’t really need to go to those lengths. I’m doing okay the way I currently do things.” Well, maybe you’re right. Yet, if you’re like most people, you’ll be really surprised how different that hour feels when you use this practice fully. You’ll be amazed how much you get done, not to mention how much more centered and satisfied you’ll feel.
Once you’ve made this a part of your daily routine, you may even want to experiment with some larger chunks of time.
Give Yourself a Break
A large measure of our distraction comes from paying attention to facts and information we can’t do anything about. This takes our attention away from the “now.” And because our greatest contributions to life always and only happen “now,” it’s only in the “now” that we get to live our best life.
Minimizing information distraction gives us a chance to remember where we are, what’s really happening around us, and what we really want and need to be doing. When we’re seduced by a bad habit of information addiction, we can’t see or feel clearly.
Fascinating articles, the newspaper sitting on the doorstep, commercials, idle chitchat – there’s a time and a place for all that. Right now, however, give yourself a chance to be present and let those things be irrelevant to you for one hour of each day this week.
We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
-William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches & Public Letters
Go ahead – practice freedom.
Thanks for making the human race a little more free.