Being present

How often are we truly present to the current moment? Most of us are living in a constant state of distraction, with phone notification buzzing at us endlessly, the ever-present possibility of a call or an email needing our attention, with news breaking at all times of day from all around the world.

Technology has thrust us into a permanently connected world, where switching off and unplugging is seen as an act of rebellion. Just as we expect to have non-stop access to the world, the world expects to have immediate access to us.

The end result is a world of people who have an interminable buzz of distraction underneath everything they do. Phenomena such as phantom buzzing and FOMO are symptoms of this era. We cannot focus our attention because we always feel there are things happening in the world outside which we don’t want to miss.

If you ask most people, they think they are paying attention. But when last have you truly focused on just one thing? Paid attention to the details of what you are experiencing? Listened to someone speaking with every sense of your being?

Giving our full attention to something is a lost art. We have forgotten how to immerse ourselves in a book or a movie or a live performance. We live-tweet our way through activities turning every solo pursuit into a communal celebration.

Earlier this year, after reading Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World”, I undertook a 30-day Digital Detox. During the first 3 days, I felt the itch. I picked up my phone several times a day then remembered I was not supposed to be using social media. I also found myself having thoughts that were immediately followed by “I should tweet that.”

Once I got used to the idea, I found my brain quieting. Instead of scrolling endlessly through Twitter, I read, I talked to my family, I worked on online courses. My brain felt less anxious without the need for the dopamine fix that comes from mentions and likes.
Without the constant distraction, I had time to think much more deeply and started my year in a far more productive manner than usual. I read more than I had in many months. And I completed a couple of courses I needed for work.

By giving my full attention to time by myself and with family, I deepened connections. By giving full attention to books and courses, my productivity sky-rocketed.

Attention is a commodity, and we have been described as living in an “attention economy.” While it is true that our attention is a limited resource, it is one over which we have full control. When we are not present to our own life, we do truly miss out.

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