The modern world is built to distract.
Every day it fronts a collective assault. There are no rules. It will use any means necessary to claim a piece of our most valuable asset:
In a time when we sail a sea of media so vast we couldn't traverse it in a hundred lifetimes, attention is gold.
In our society, profit is synonymous with the bottom line. In such a world, there's little space for the ethics of how businesses acquire attention.
Smartphone apps, social media platforms, and advertising prey on our cognitive vulnerabilities. If a budding digital business hopes to thrive and make a profit, it must find ways to keep eyeballs on its brand.
It's a constant battle for real estate in our psyches. Those left standing are the ones who’ve managed to put down roots in the public's psychological soil.
Welcome to the distraction economy.
Here, meditation is an act of rebellion. Cultivating presence is a weapon of defense.
But our attention isn't only valuable to businesses. It's also our own most important resource. Our ability to focus is what nurtures the blooming of dreams and fuels personal growth.
The capacity for presence determines the depth and resilience of our happiness. It guarantees the quality of our relationships. It's also the gateway to intuition.
In a world made to rob the public of these resources and knock them off center, what will become of us?
Modern technology has brought its marvels. We fly across the planet in less than a single day. We've cured fatal viral diseases. We can map the subtle electrical activity of the brain with MRI machines. We can peer into deep space through the Hubble telescope, seeing the beginning of time itself.
But not all our advancements and innovations are single-edged swords. Problem-solving innovations often trigger chain reactions of unintended consequences.
The collateral damage could be your sanity.
Too often we reach the end of the week with our emotions buried in an endless barrage of stimulus and media. This constant distraction adds up to big problems.
Being always forced into our minds, we lose touch with our gut feelings, pains, and desires. Over a short time, we start feeling like a hollow shell of a person.
The constant distraction also pushes us to live on autopilot. We make our decisions under the influence of the cultural media messaging environment. We don't even see the guidance of our authentic, inward direction.
We couldn't have known how susceptible we'd be to Internet and device addictions. But after a decade of studies throughout the handheld boom, the evidence is clear. Technology-related depression, anxiety, and ADD are on the rise.
Then combine that with the setting of an urbanized city, which raises anxiety levels. Thus, we seek coping mechanisms to manage anxiety. Some eat, some drink, others smoke. But we all carry the perfect distraction device in our pockets and purses.
We compulsively check our phones. We scan for alerts. We thumb through social feeds and swipe on dating apps. This chronic usage, in turn, may cause further mental health issues.
It's a vicious cycle of neuro-chemical addiction.
Each time you see a little red dot indicating you have a new notification, you get a little hit of dopamine. Which is the conductor of the brain's reward and pleasure centers.
If an app designer can figure out how to trip this feel-good drip, and get you hooked, he or she gets paid. And so do the investors.
Tristan Harris is the former Design Ethicist at Google. He wrote a recent article called How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind. In it he said, "If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine."
Pair these tactics with city life and you have bombardment of the senses. Your mind is swimming against a current of mental disarray.
How often do you feel contentment and peace? How optimistic do you feel about attaining such things soon?
What situations, activities and events yield those feelings? Are they short-lived? Do they arrive via promotions, getting laid, and the release of new TV seasons to binge watch? Or, are they evoked by simple moments of marvel and gratitude spread throughout the week?
If you feel chronic overwhelm, distraction, and numbness it might be a sign. You're giving away too much of your headspace to the modern world.
It’s time to fight back.
Here are a few simple but profound ways you can reclaim your psychological resources:
Yoga is a great tool for people with active minds. Sitting meditation is tough, or downright agonizing for such people. But yoga is a kind of moving meditation.
It’s about bringing complete awareness to the breath and body in each moment. Hitting pockets of sensation, you imagine drawing breath there. With each exhale you let go.
It not only creates release and relaxation in the body, but also in the mind. You leave feeling spent, serene, and whole.
A skilled teacher will guide your thoughts, too, as you move. This empowers you with tools to use throughout the week to catch your mind at work.
Nothing surpasses floating if you're looking to unplug and recharge.
A float tank screens out all stimulation - light, sound, even the sense of touch. With the water and air being the same temperature as your skin, you feel suspended in empty space.
The only intrusions are your own thoughts. This makes the float tank a powerful tool to conquer the distractions of our inner world.
90 minutes in a float tank is like hitting the reset button on a computer. It's like getting a massage for your entire nervous system.
I mean this in the proper sense of the verb – using your eyes to scan jumbles of ink, stamped on paper and bounded in a stack.
You listen to audiobooks.
The medium completely changes the experience and retention. Most important, a proper book has you sitting and drawing your focus to a single point. Attention is usually fractured when listening. We cook, commute, clean, or work while listening to audiobooks.
For best reading results, turn off your phone. As you trace the lines and turn the pages, marvel at how much your mind can behave like a caffeinated toddler.
4. Put your headphones away
Like the phone, earbuds have become an extra appendage. Few people leave home without them. But they can be a fantastic distraction from your inner life.
Listening to podcast episodes back-to-back becomes the white-noise machine for our mind. It's a soothing background hum. It staves off the discomfort of confronting what waits for us in quiet stillness.
Try unplugging for a single day. Don't listen to music or chatter during the commute. Don't watch Netflix in bed until you pass out with your clothes on. Be an organic, old-fashioned human being without constant auditory stimulation.
Reconnect. Notice what’s actually going on for you. Feel everything. Visualize your hopes and dreams. Explore your sadness and frustration.
You might find some freedom.