“No-Fail” Friday: Attention, please (x2)

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Hey there! Hoping you’ve had a great week, and are as excited as I am to welcome in the weekend ahead. This week, we talked about distractions, and ways that mindfulness can help you to manage your attention span, especially when it comes to the pull of the screen. Now, I do realize the irony of talking to you about digital distractions from a blog, but I’m hoping this is more part of your self-care or edification routines than procrastination…but you know mindfulness isn’t about judgment, so you just do you and enjoy. ;-) This weekend’s mindfulness challenge is going to be a little more about calling you out, though. <<READ MORE>>

If you drive or even walk in a place with multi-lane roads, the next time you’re at a red light, check out the drivers waiting with you. Where are most of them looking? You got it: down. Are they exploring the nuances of their floor mats? Probably not. More likely, they are scrolling, sharing, liking and responding, lost in a stream of updates from their social universe. If you’re lucky, they’ll stop before they go when the light turns green (please!), but we all know that doesn’t always happen (scary!).  Not only are we unable to tolerate more than a few seconds of boredom without looking for something to engage us, we can’t even stop ourselves from looking when we’re already in the midst of doing something else.

Our brains are becoming accustomed to overload, but that doesn’t mean they are getting any better at processing it. When multiple stimuli impact your brain at once, you still only process one at at time, but you may jump among them rapidly, which is actually the phenomenon that creates the illusion of multitasking. As you jump, you absorb less data from each, so you’re never really paying full attention to anything.

Multitasking itself is a topic for another day, but it is related to our penchant for distraction. We’ve become very adept at shifting focus away from things, because there is always something else to look at. We never have to spend very long with any feelings that we don’t like, but as you know as a mindfulness practitioner, that means they just come back for you later. Good luck trying to escape from yourself for long.

It isn’t always about technology, either. We can try to mask uncomfortable feelings – from anxiety to boredom – with other behaviors from eating or drinking to gossiping. We shift our attention from the unpleasant to the (temporarily) pleasant, only to have it run out and leave us empty again.

So your “no-fail” challenge this weekend is just to notice. Try to pay attention to those moments when you feel the need for more – one more check of the newsfeed, one more short video while you’re waiting, a few more bites before you take on that project. You don’t necessarily need to change your behavior, but you might if you choose to, which is the big distinction here. You’re going to notice the reflex and make a choice about whether to go with it. You might even gain a little insight into what exactly you were fleeing from in the first place. If you stay with it for just a breath longer, does it start to feel worse, or maybe, not so bad?

Nothing has the power to make us as uncomfortable as we can make ourselves. When we avoid discomfort, it builds through the power of our own internal storytelling. For just a minute this weekend, let it be. Yes, you’re bored, worried, excited, anxious, and that’s ok. Take a breath, and it will still be there after you do, if you choose to intentionally give it your attention.

Photo credit: Igor Kasalovic

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