Pay Attention To What You Value, Not What Distracts

Now to shift our attention on this blog. By shifting to exactly that, attention.

My previous articles set up the problem we face collectively with attention hijacking technologies, our lack of healthy solitude, our inability to remove distractions from our lives, and more.

Building habits to focus our attention will be a massive topic on this site. In order to enter into the calm of the wilderness (the ‘eremos’ in Greek), a metaphor for a life of focus away from our increasingly hurried and distracted world, we’re in need of an intentional inventory of what we place our attention on and how we place it.

First, it would seem proper to define attention, and specifically in psychological terms. The Britannica says this about attention, that it is:

The concentration of awareness on some phenomenon to the exclusion of other stimuli.

I think the first part is not surprising, concentrating our awareness. And it is something I’ll address later, what exactly is it we should concentrate on.

But the end of the definition, excluding other stimuli, might be the most crucial part of attention, which takes the most effort.

Tuning out, the art of ignoring other stimuli in our environment, is the hard work part of attention’s definition. This is because in any present moment scenario, in order to pay attention to what you value the most, you are also choosing to discriminate against anything else going on around you.

William James, 19th century psychologist and philosopher, said of attention,…It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” I particularly like the usage of the word withdrawal here, because this means the retreat, the reduction, taking back or away of something.

In this light it doesn’t mean merely the withdrawal from things we don’t like (even though it appears human psychology is drawn to ‘bad’ things or things we disagree with, think train wrecks or Tik Tok dances) but it also means good things. Even great things. We need to withdraw and tune out from anything not worthwhile for our mission. But I’ll get there.

What seems to be an urgent call for proper attention in our current times however is the importance to discriminate against your brain’s awareness of things not going on in your present environment; like what your latest tweet is possibly doing; what the breaking news banner on tv is possibly saying; how quickly the ice caps are melting; how your kid’s teacher is handling their class overall, etc. That’s anxiety and it is an issue which certainly is measurable in it’s growth over the past decade.

As the Brittanica states about attention in the realm of psychology, “There are, of course, myriad events taking place in the world all the time, each impinging upon a person’s senses.

Which is why the objects of our attention should be what we value the most in order to tune out the things not present in our life.

The positive side of attention is the discipline of only focusing on the things you value above everything else. That shouldn’t sound like a discipline at all but it truly is.

It sounds elementary to a degree, but I and other observers believe this is becoming an even harder task with technology connecting us to everything and providing an infinite well of choice (distraction), even when they seem like noble choices.

In the book The Ruthless Elemination of Hurry, author John Mark Comer references others discussing minimalism, or as he interchangeably calls it, simplicity. Comer paints a narrative how to focus our attention on what matters most. It must be the things we value above everything else.

One author cited is Joshua Becker, and his definition of minimalism echos the definition for attention:

The intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from them.

Pg 200 of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Since avenues of distraction are inevitable and ever increasing in our modern lives, the things we want to concentrate on may have become lost in the shuffle. We should be concentrating on the things we value the most, and if I am redundant in saying this so far, I’ve only just begun to be. I will dive much further into value defining in up coming posts, but suffice it to say knowing what your values are will be key in choosing what to concentrate your awareness on.

Promoting our greatest pursuits, our highest responsibilities, even the things we simply love more than anything else, is the best use of our attention in the proactive sense. In order to do so, we must also eliminate the distracting stimuli, no matter how noble it might be.

Published by David Mieksztyn

I am a writer passing along what I've learned.

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