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5 Ways to Reclaim Your Attention

5 Ways to Reclaim Your Attention

This is the fifth post in our summer series "Lessons Learned in the Woods." Find the intro here.

Give me a shout if you’ve ever caught yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, standing up in the middle of the living room, when you’ve got a million other things to do and you can’t believe where the last hour went.

The first step towards taking control of your smartphone is admitting that it already controls you.

A few weeks ago I heard an interview that blew my mind. Tristan Harris, founder of Time Well Spent introduced me to the Attention Economy. Suddenly everything about why I find my smartphone so irresistible made sense. Listen to the full episode and learn how app developers use gaming psychology (ie gambling) to hold our attention, because attention is money. According to Harris, there are thousands of really smart people behind every click. When you’re suprised by how easy it is to let time get away from you when surfing the internet or engaging on social media… be not surprised. According to Harris, there are thousands of really smart people behind every click. Uncomfortable yet?

Please understand: I am no luddite. I love my what phone, iPad, and laptop enable me to accomplish. I couldn’t do business or communicate with my cross-country friends and family without them. Yet over the 4 years since purchasing a smartphone, I’ve noticed a distinct decline in my attention span and productivity.

Can you relate?

And what does this have to do with Life Lesson Learned in the Woods?

Being away from the technology is one of the reasons why I love getting away into the woods so much. The constant stress and pressure of responding to everything is gone. There's no question about should I or shouldn't I check my phone, email, or the news. All I can do is be in the present moment. Just the moment - and the task - at hand.

If you feel like you’re stuck in the rat race of the Attention Economy like the rest of us, know that you’re in good company!

Here are some changes I’ve made to help me pay attention to what matters. I hope you find them useful, too.

5 Ways to Reclaim Your Attention and Transform Your Mood

  1. Turn off your phone. Really off. Has this occurred to you lately? Surprisingly simple and effective way to keep distractions at bay when moments matter.
  2. Use simple tools. Yes, your smartphone can be a calendar, a camera, an alarm clock, etc. etc. etc. But does it have to be? Multipurpose tools are invaluable when traveling or trying to live simply, true. But recently I realized that “multipurpose” was too often becoming “multitasking.” I realized that every time I picked up my phone, I was flooded with all the things that could be done, should be done, need to be done NOW! For me, the anxiety isn’t worth it. So I bought an alarm clock. A camera. Pulled the map out of the trunk. Now, waking up to a real alarm clock is a much better way to start my day than alarm → calender → news → social media → email → oh my.
  3. Turn off notifications. Only real people with real messages are allowed to interrupt me at any moment of my day or night. Friends, please resist your app’s persistent request to turn on notifications! Resist!! Things that aren't urgent don't need to send you instant updates. You can check them on your own time and respond rather than react. It's so much better, I promise!
  4. Learn your body’s signs of techology-induced anxiety and have a plan for what to do when you feel them. For example, my “tells” are that my upper shoulders/neck begin to tense up and my breath becomes very shallow. Sometimes a few full, deep breaths are enough to ease the tension. When that doesn’t work, I know it’s time to step away from the computer before I get frozen and locked to the screen. It's embarrassing to admit it, but there’s a point of no return where I just get grumpier and grumpier, more anxious and even forget to eat if I let myself get sucked in for too long! Sound familiar? Pay attention and take action.
  5. Practice daily the radical act of simply being human. Anthropologist Amber Case shared in a recent TED RadioHour interview that smartphones, computers and tablets are tools that allow you, much like a hammer or an ice axe, to do things that you physically would be unable to do otherwise. Yet unlike those tools, digital technology transports us out of the present moment. It takes us to other locations, time zones, and even other moments in history (Past: photos. Future: calendar). When we step into the digital world, we lose our sense of place and our sense of self. Amber Case sums it up well in the Screen Time Part I episode: “And really, when you have no external input, that is the time when there's a creation of self, when you can try and figure out who you really are." So the next time you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or just sitting on the couch at home, practice being human. Let your brain rest and your self discover you.

If you want to learn more about the Attention Economy check out another interview by Tristan Harris at Recode Decode. He's got lots of helpful tips too.


How are you being thoughtfully clean about your use of technology? Blessing or curse? How do you blend the two? Share your experiences with us in the comments or on FB / IG @redbudsuds #thoughtfullyclean


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