On attention

If I told you we live in a world full of distractions, you would probably nod in agreement or roll your eyes and think “No shit, Sherlock.” Take a step back for a second and think about how we’ve become so indifferent to this idea.

We’ve been conditioned to think that a barrage of notifications keeping us hooked to our phones and directing our actions is simply a fact of life. But this isn’t just a passing annoyance — it can have profound effects on our lives in ways we don’t often consider.

It turns out, living in this state of perpetual distraction can really mess with our memories. When we're not fully present, the moments that should stick with us just... don't. It stunts our creativity too, since innovative ideas require deep, uninterrupted, focused thinking. Perhaps more seriously, it can even eat away at our empathy, making it harder to connect with others because we're never truly engaged in a conversation. And if that isn’t bad enough, studies suggest this constant division of our attention can sap the feeling of fulfillment and meaning from our lives.

Even when we recognize these challenges, the solutions aren’t very obvious. The common response is to employ defensive strategies: deleting apps, attempting to set boundaries, going on digital detoxes, or using productivity tools like the Pomodoro technique. These can be helpful. But I've found that they are often just a band-aid that offers temporary relief.

Inspired by Rob Walker's work on attention and the art of noticing, I've been trying some different strategies lately. It's all about actively engaging my senses in new and playful ways. Here are some examples:

  • Engaging in the slow, deliberate observation of a piece of art (or anything else!) for 10 minutes, allowing myself to perceive nuances that would otherwise go unnoticed.
  • Observing and consciously noticing 5 distinct sounds and smells that characterize my neighborhood, fostering a deeper connection with my surroundings.
  • Adopting a mindful approach to walking, deliberately slowing down to engage all senses, allowing me to appreciate the present moment.

It sounds simple, but what I love about these exercises is that they feel like a game. It's about rediscovering the joy of simply being present, noticing the little things that make a moment special. And because it's fun, I find myself returning to them without the usual struggle of trying to maintain a new routine or habit.

We really should start treating our attention as the precious resource it is, guarding it and using it on the things that truly matter to us. As I experiment with these strategies, I'm finding a deeper, more rewarding connection with the world around me – and maybe you will too.