How can we stop projecting ourselves into a future that hasn’t happened yet?
How can we reclaim our attention spans in an age that glorifies instant entertainment and endless consumption in such quantities that it smothers our ability to think clearly?
More importantly, how are these two things related?
When our mind’s stomach is so full of mental junk food that we’ve lost our appetite for anything else, it can be hard to keep ourselves in the mood for anything healthy or worthwhile. Even when we want to consume what we know to be beneficial for us. It feels like our conscious attention is one of those Japanese subway-stuffers trying its best to cram every single last person inside before the doors close.
I was thinking about his while ironically trying to read a book about the process of letting go of unnecessary thoughts and feelings which impede our natural state, which is one of acceptance and love.
It took me over an hour to read about three pages and I’m not sure the majority of it even stuck with me. I got the gist, but when you’re stopping every few lines to daydream about getting a dog, living in a van, what you need from the store, money issues, or having imaginary conversations with people you’ve never met, it can be hard to focus your attention on the words in front of you and allow them to have the impact on you that you want them to have.
Don’t worry, when I finally finished the chapter I was reading I immediately sat down to write about the very problem that had been disrupting what was supposed to be some quality learning time.
The best way to understand just how bad your attention span has gotten, just look at how many different types of content you consume on a daily basis. We’re so used to our media consumption levels continually rising that we don’t realize when the water has reached the second story windows and is starting to flood the house. We walk around in the home of our heads thinking the only reason we’re frustrated, angry, and short-tempered is because our socks are wet. When we’re ignoring the fact that the only reason that’s the case is because the carpet is soaked due to the windows being open to the torrent of constant stimulation pouring in.
We’re so distracting with what seem like immediate problems, we neglect to seek the source of the issue.
Now, it might feel like the problem of future projection and the shortening of our attention spans are unrelated problems, but they’re really not.
When we spend every waking second of our day consuming information and content from a myriad of sources - digital or otherwise - we get in such a habit of consumption that we forget to actually sit and absorb it all.
We eat and drink it all up so fast that it goes right through us, never getting a chance to settle in our stomachs and become a part of who we are. This being the case, we never sit with the present moment's meal that we’ve just swallowed because our minds are already back in hunting mode. We’ve become so used to “hustling”, “grinding”, and “getting after it”, that the feeling of actually having “gotten it” is completely foreign to us. We don’t know what to do with ourselves when we’re actually holding the thing we were looking for. Our eyes stay fixed on the future because we’ve never stopped searching for long enough to see and appreciate what we’ve done for ourselves.
Holding something doesn’t feel natural because we’re so used to reaching.
I started to realize how this has been affecting me when I started noticing that I couldn’t explain ideas to people in the way I should be able to after having learned something new, or thinking I learned something, anyways.
The amount of content I’ve been consuming on a daily basis has left me searching for the right way to explain something I supposedly just “learned” about and failing to find the words to do so.
Here's a common scenario. Let's see if you relate.
Oh wow, was my mind just so blown watching an hour long video essay about the parallels and misconceptions of storytelling vs. reality that it brought tears to my eyes? Cool. Next video.
Wow, what a great interview about personal development and finding the inner strength to manifest our own realities without being impeded by the opinions and judgments of other people! So inspiring! Next.
*opens Instagram and starts scrolling
Funny. Funny. Dumb. SO dumb. Wow, what an idiot. Funny. Funny. Jesus, some people… Wow, interesting. Funny. Wow! Haha! Dumb. Funny. Dumb. Etc, etc, etc…
Enough of that, let me skim some articles whose headline hooked me into clicking. Wow! So empowering! I’ve never thought about life from that perspective before! Clap. Follow. Next.
Oh yea, I gotta check my email and call the bank, but first, I forgot a new video is up from that one guy I like, so I’ll watch that… Unbelievable! Another absolute paradigm shifter! Brilliant!
“Hey, man. What’s up? What have you been up to?”
“Oh, just watching some cool videos. Trying to learn some stuff.”
“Awesome, what were they about?”
“…um. Well, one was about like, stories and stuff. Then, this one interview that was cool, you should check it out it’s like, so good. I can’t remember the guy’s name, though.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
Does any of the media we continually consume actually stick with us? Or are we trying to hold onto water as it pours through our fingers?
Apparently, our natural response to dealing with such an unending barrage of content is just to keep consuming content.
When we don’t feel the fullness that comes from actually absorbing new information, we delude ourselves into thinking that the solution is simply more information.
In fact, it’s the reason we can’t sit with ourselves in the present moment, the reason we can’t retain these rare insights we claim to want so badly, and, for me at least, it’s the reason I started relying so heavily on such inundation.
You see, in my mind I knew the problem of over-consumption, but like any addict, I had my justifications. I convinced myself that I might not remember every single thing I learn about, but over time enough of the wisdom and insight will build up in my subconscious that it will eventually trickle into my conscious thought and I will slowly but surely turn into the person I claim to want to be. It’s a method that does technically kind of work over long periods of time, but not something that should be relied upon as an efficient means of personal development.
If we can learn to slow ourselves down, to take our time digesting new information instead of just eating it up, spewing it out, and moving on to our next meal, we might actually be able to absorb the nutrients that it has to offer instead of keeping ourselves detrimentally insatiable.
Having an appetite for information is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But, with the speed at which the world is starting to move, and the rate at which information is being released, whether new and creative, or old and repackaged, we need to make sure that we have one foot planted firmly on the side of presence and patience lest we slip and float away into the infinite void of digital distraction and fleeting information.
Keep yourself grounded, consume healthy content, and take your time digesting it. You’ll get more out of sitting with one idea for a month than 100 ideas in day. It’s up to you to decide where your focus will lie, but sometimes we don’t realize how gradually blurry that same focus has become in the first place.
Adjust your settings and wipe the lens.
Take your time with new information and let it sink it before you move on to something else. The world will still be there when you’re ready.
Image from Unsplash.com