Master Your Focus:  Your Attention Recovery Plan to Get Your Life Back

My Cats Crave Attention.

Human animals do too. To give someone your attention means that you care. But just like Love, the word Attention has been so coopted that we no longer recognize its sacred influence in our lives.

For Espresso & Chamomile, attention means eye contact, talking and listening, play, rubbing their bellies while they purr, and sometimes following them around when they have something to show me. 

For our partners, our children, our friends and family, the needs for attention are pretty much the same. 

But what about the attention we give (or don’t give) ourselves?

Our attention is for sale. At what cost?

Today we live in an “attention economy.” Businesses and their marketers invest millions of dollars to capture our attention and hold it. There are the usual tech-spects: television, video games, social media. And then there are the #CatsofInstagram. Their purpose is to make us want and buy what they're selling. And we are being sold all the time.

With all this outside competition, is it any wonder that we find ourselves with an attention deficit? Close to 10% of American children have been diagnosed with ADHD, compared to rates from 1% to 7% in Canada, the UK, Germany and France. 

But the diagnosable disorder we call ADHD is just the tip of the iceberg. Far more of us than the diagnosed 10% feel isolated from each other, and more importantly from ourselves.

How did we get here?

In today's high-wired world, attention has become one of our most precious resources and it’s essential to reclaim and redirect our attention towards ourselves. So in this blog post I explore the profound impact of giving your attention to yourself and offer practical strategies for doing so.

Beyond the data-driven causes (genetics, neurology, prenatal factors and childhood environment) what do we know about the causes? And what does this mean for us as creative people?

A Meme of Its Own

Screen time is such a huge factor, it almost goes without saying. We know that the technology itself is addictive, designed with rapid feedback loops for high stimulation and instant gratification. Notifications interrupt whatever you’re doing and each time you response you become more easily distractable.

You only have to look at the animal world (of which we are still a part) to know that this is not the normal pace of life. We've got to change our evil ways. But the artificial reward settings of our suitors make it seem impossible to kick the habit. 

Missing in Action

Even more important than what we are doing are all the things we are not doing. Physical activity, face-to-face interaction, good sleep, intellectual challenge, creative pursuits and play play a big role in what makes us human… and what makes us better humans.

The Creative Cost

For those of us seeking to live creative lives – by which I mean "to take what life has given us and transform it into something beautiful, useful and productive" – the costs can bankrupt us:

  • Shallow Thinking. When you allow distractions to fragment your thoughts, it becomes difficult to reach the deep level of sustained thinking where ideas are generated and problems are solved.
  • Cognitive Overload. Constant exposure to digital distractions and multitasking can overwork the brain, resulting in a state of mental exhaustion where the reflective and associative thinking necessary for creativity are out of reach.
  • Smashed Time. Creativity requires unstructured periods for reflection and daydreaming. Without quiet moments for the mind to wander, you will miss the unexpected connections that spark new ideas.
  • Unsolvable Problems. To solve problems, you have to maintain focus long enough to understand a problem deeply enough to find the solutions that work. Distractions lead to superficial solutions that ultimately fail.
  • Blocked Flow. To enter and maintain a creative flow state, you have to become absorbed in what you’re doing. Without control of your attention, you cannot drop down to attain peak creative performance. 

So, if you're finding it more difficult to concentrate, to generate ideas, to get things done, to connect with the people you love or to even remember the things that make your heart sing, here are five strategies you can use to recover your sacred attention, one day at a time:

Your Attention Recovery Plan

  1. Take Charge of Your Tech.  
    • Turn off your notifications. Which ones do you really need to stay connected? And which can you turn off to give yourself some space?
    • Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking increases your cognitive load, making it harder to focus. Put your 10 most-useful apps on your home screen. Send the others to other screens. And keep them all closed when not in use. Each time you pick up your phone to achieve a task, take a breath. Open only the app you need and close it when you're done.
    • Use a timer to step away from your device long enough to enjoy the real-life activities below.
  2. Step Outside in Nature. Spending time in natural environments has restorative effects on your attention and mental health. Nature-basking activities, such as hiking, gardening, or just spending time in parks and green spaces, help you reduce stress and improve cognitive functioning. Take a hike with your family or a friend, visit a botanical garden, or go on a picnic.
  3. Roll Out Routines. Human beings need structure as well as freedom and predictability as well as spontaneity. If you're working at home, the obvious structure of an office is missing. So you have to create your own. Plan your priorities for the week. Batch your primary activities into allocated chunks of time (e.g. Monday Morning Admin or Friday Cash Flow, so you never have to wonder what you’re doing next. And first of all, be sure to schedule time to rest, eat good food and move your body every day.
  4. Get Quality Zs. Poor sleep quality has a strong link to ADHD, but it applies to all us humans. Screen time disrupts your melatonin production and circadian rhythms; and just taking melatonin pills can actually be counterproductive. To sleep better put away your screens 30 minutes before bed. Create an evening ritual you look forward to: a candlelit moment on the yoga mat, an infusion or a soothing bath.
  5. Live Mindfully. Incorporating mindfulness and meditation practices into your daily routines can be an attention enhancer. These practices help you focus on the present moment and manage your impulses and emotions more effectively. Even 10 minutes each morning will make a difference when you show up consistently. Now this is an app to put on your home page.

Nature or Nurture?

I have a serious question. Does all the data about brain structure and neurological differences really mean that all these individuals among us are lacking something? Or does it mean that the world we’ve engineered today is systematically altering us?

Whether we have a diagnosis or not, ultimately the attention deficit we are all struggling with is not just in the individual; the deficit is in the environment we’re living in. 

Sell Out or Tune In

The true joy in life is not about what you consume, it is about what you create. And what I notice, as I become more aware of my own propensity to put the computer ahead of my life, is that it’s not really for others that I give my attention; ultimately it’s for me.

Your attention is your most valuable creative asset and learning to steer it toward what matters most to you can have profound effects on your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

So, spend your days this month trying out these strategies to master your focus, so you can get your one and only life back.

For more in-depth insights on this and other pressings creative challenges, subscribe to The Wheel of Creativity Newsletter. Find your creative flow here.