Attention seeking.

‐ November 27, 2019

Our attention is valuable. 

In fact it’s so valuable, that multi-billion dollar companies spend multiple billions of dollars trying to figure out how to monopolise it. They feed us photos to like, headlines to click, and Tiks to Tok, all so they can keep our attention focused on them.

On top of that, we still need to keep up with the everyday stuff, like taking enough high quality selfies to convince ourselves and the rest of the internet that our lives have meaning. 

We have so much to do, it’s understandable that we don’t pay much attention to how we’re doing it. But what might we discover if we did? 

In the video above, Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist studying the neuro-mechanics of mindfulness, talks about a study which investigated whether mindfulness could help people quit smoking. The majority of the study participants had already tried to quit smoking through willpower and failed, so Judson decided to try something different.

He didn’t try to convince the participants to stop smoking, in fact he encouraged them to do so. He just asked them to pay attention to what it was like when they did. 

What they found, was that when they paid attention to what smoking was like, it was a completely different experience. As Judson observes of one of the participants:

“What she discovered, just by being curiously aware when she smoked, is that smoking tastes, like, shit.”

The interesting thing isn’t that smoking tastes like shit, everybody knows that. It’s that even though she was already a smoker, the taste of cigarettes came as a surprise to her. By paying attention, “she moved from knowledge to wisdom”. From an intellectual understanding of something, to a true, experiential knowledge of it.

This shift allowed her and many of her fellow participants, to finally free themselves from their habit. In fact, mindfulness training proved to be “twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking”.

We all have things that we know we should be doing (or not doing), but right around the corner is always something to distract us from them. 

We mindlessly binge watch Netflix, or scroll through social media, or shovel tasteless (barely worthy of being called), food into our mouths. We do this instead of doing the things that are important to us, or pursuing our dreams, or taking better care of ourselves.

But if you’ve read this far, you’ve already proven that your powers of attention aren’t broken. That you can choose where to focus them. That you can use them to learn, to think, to grow.

Yes, our attention is valuable. Just imagine if we were more mindful about where we spent it.

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