Have you ever really thought about the phrase, “Pay attention”? When we pay attention, we offer our focused mind and our time in exchange for something. Attention is our human currency of thought, time, energy and emotion. In fact, all that we have is our attention, which we proffer in exchange for all that we want to receive. We pay our attention as a currency just as we use money to pay for a meal.
We pay our “attention currency” to our jobs in exchange for a wage. We pay attention to television in exchange for entertainment. We pay attention to a subject in school in exchange for insight, knowledge and a degree. We pay attention to those that we love and hope that a reciprocal amount of loving attention is paid in return.
In the end, what we pay attention to defines us and makes us who we are.
In 1971, Nobel prize-winning economist Herbert Simon warned of the coming Information Age, saying, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention …”
The times in which we are now living have created a claustrophobia of information. Powered by media that is always present and always on, we are saturated and overstimulated, which leads to a lack of focus and a depletion of attention.
We are living in an era of mass attention deficit—too much to pay attention to with a limited ability to consume, draining our emotional bank accounts and starving our souls.
An overstatement you say? In his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, author Daniel Goleman tells us that there are two kinds of distractions: sensory and emotional. Sensory distractions are those stimuli that our brain constantly works to weed out, thereby allowing us to pay our focused attention solely to our primary tasks: for example, reading this sentence you are tuning out your other senses, such as the feeling of the chair beneath you.
Goleman goes on to say that the more serious distractions are those of the emotional variety. Emotional distractions are the result of what is sometimes referred to as our “monkey brain,” a continuous series of thoughts swinging from vine to vine in perpetual motion without ever coming to rest. This non-stop “focus-shifting” leads to no focus at all.
The bottom line is that the less we focus, the worse we do—at work, in relationships, when we need to learn, think or create, and when we’re ready to sleep—in virtually every aspect of our life.
A lack of focus produces a dilution and fragmentation of attention. Multitasking is a myth. Only focused attention on a single task will produce the best outcome. What happens when, in the middle of a conversation your friend answers her phone, or when someone checks their messages during a meeting, or when a smart watch catches the continuous attention of a colleague? You know they aren’t focused. How does this make you feel?
We are at risk of becoming a solitary, disconnected, perpetually distracted and isolated society. We don’t have to look too far to see what the future holds. Just observe any teenager and watch their interactions—the majority of their connections are too often with a screen and not another person.
The idea of a mobile and socially augmented society may sound possible and even appealing. However, at least for now, it appears the opposite is true. Our mobile and social media lives are becoming primary, and we are augmenting our digital relationships with increasingly fewer live, human, face-to-face interactions.
The great Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn taught us that “your focus determines your reality.” What is the focus of your attention? To what do you pay your most valuable currency? All we have to offer is our attention. To whom do you pay your attention? To what? What if we started an attention investment account for just one day, writing down what we paid attention to and to whom—what would be the return you received from your investment?
We are what we focus on, and our attention is the currency of our focus.
Pay attention to that which you pay attention.