Note: This is the second part of a multi-part series about a phenomenon I call “Attention Splatter.” If you didn’t read the first post on this topic, please click here.
Have you ever been at home all day when there’s nothing in the fridge? You open the door. You look in. You hum a little tune as you look around. You sigh. You grab a handful of pine nuts. And you go back to your desk.
Then about an hour later, you’re still hungry. So you go back to the fridge and look in again. Nothing new has appeared. You pull out some black olives and put them on a saucer and go back to your desk to eat them while you stare at your computer.
You think, “I should just go out and get something to eat.” But you just can’t motivate yourself. It’s like a part of you is convinced that a solution will appear. Maybe a Sous Chef will arrive. Amazingly, this doesn’t happen, and eventually you’re back at the fridge. You look in. Then, you close the door and reach up to the cereal cabinet and take a handful of Kashi and head back to the office.
What ultimately happens in this scenario is that you eat all day, but you never feel satisfied. By five o’clock, you’re completely strung out and unfulfilled and you wonder why.
Here’s why: You ate. But you never actually fed yourself.
It’s the same thing with Attention Splatter. You dabble in random things. But you never really commit to anything. You mindlessly and half-heartedly splatter your attention on non-activities. But you don’t fully engage.
Remember this: Your attention ultimately feeds you. It feeds your heart and it feeds your mind. This is why it’s so important to notice what you give your attention to. This is also why splattered attention leaves you feeling strung out and unfulfilled. You never actually feed yourself.
So, here are some of the culprits – the non-activities – that make it so easy for us to splatter. Anyone can fill up an entire day on the following things, and feel like they didn’t get anything done.
1 – Email
If you are like most people, your email is turned on at all times with audible alerts. Every time an email comes in, you know it. Even if you don’t check it right away, you know it’s there. I call this phenomenon “Email Bleed.” It bleeds into your day, your time and your space. I’m as guilty of it as the next guy. And it’s time to get out of the habit.
Here’s why: Let’s say that you open and read email each time it arrives. Let’s say you’re doing your finances and kind of wanted the distraction. Let’s say it’s a note from a gallery telling you that they didn’t accept your latest work. Now you’ve got a minor pain in your heart and you have to sit there for a moment and let the tears burn. Then you call a friend to talk about it. Later that day, when you’ve recovered, it will take you another 20 minutes just to regain the progress you had already made in your financial work. You’ve actually added more work into your day by opening yourself to the email bleed.
2 – Cell phones
Cell phones have made it possible for our energy to be on call or on high alert at all times of the day. This isn’t a good thing for creative people. Creativity requires that you fully disconnect from the outside world for some span of time each day. It’s the only way to be fully connected to you.
If my cell phone is near me when I meditate – even if it’s turned off – I feel like Bilbo Baggins. I can feel my cell phone there. It whispers to me. It wants me to turn it on. I have to force myself to put my cell phone away and out of my reach. Pieces of my attention unconsciously float away with the mere presence of my cell phone.
If you don’t believe me, try this: drive somewhere and don’t take your phone. Or go to lunch with a friend and don’t bring your phone. It feels vastly different than when it’s sitting next to you in the car or at the lunch table. You might even feel lighter after the initial anxiety goes away.
3 – Stuff
Back when I quit my job to pursue music, lots of people had dire predictions for me. To hear them talk, you’d have had images of me picking up logs and looking under them to find my dinner. But here’s the weird thing: When I left my job, and started doing something that actually made me happy, (fed me) I stopped needing so much stuff (didn’t feed me). When I stopped getting so much stuff, my income was actually higher than my salary had been! (And I never once had to look under logs for my meals.) The point here is that stuff can splatter you and take you away from that which brings you true joy.
Stuff takes your attention. More stuff takes more of your attention. You don’t need more stuff. You need to feed yourself.
Just ask yourself this: Can you go to amazon.com and get the one book you went there to buy? Do you really want all those other things? Or are you just splattered?
4 – Internet
Do I really need to say anything about this one? You can read some of the comments on my last post to see how many people can spend hours just splattering themselves all over the internet. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that if you want to do something creative, or something active, or something that feeds you, most likely it won’t happen because you were shuffling through MySpace. It will be because you sat your ass down, and walked through the void and into that resplendent place of fecundity, known as, “Oh my God, I’m not on line!”
If you catch yourself on the internet, with your eyes glazed over absorbing nothing, clicking on anything that sits still long enough for you to click on it, then you might be splattered.
5 – Checking Stats
This includes: blog stats, website stats, stock prices, affiliate reports, shopping cart sales, book sales, mailing list graphs, Adsense returns, and anything else with a number that – for what ever reason – you’ve decided determines your self worth. Each time you check in on this number in a day, you’re actually asking the universe, “How am I doing? No, really, how am I doing?” Even if the number is high, you’re splattering your attention because A] it’s a non-activity, and B] external numbers will not ultimately feed you. You will always need more. Go write a blog. Stop checking to see how many people are reading yesterday’s!
There are several other culprits. Worry is one. Obsession is another. Someone sent me an email saying that she could use her own children to splatter her attention. The best way to figure out your splatters is to ask yourself throughout the day if you’re fully present or if you’re just making up stuff to do so you can feel like you’re doing something.
My next post will focus on the best ways I have learned (and am learning) to shift this pattern.
For now, take this challenge: Pick one of these culprits, and for one day only, schedule it as a TO-DO item. For instance, schedule a time to check and answer your email. When time’s up, turn off the email program and don’t check it again until tomorrow. See how it feels.
p.s. Tonight I’m in Lebanon, New Hampshire performing at a free outdoor concert series, called Front Porch Concert Series. If you know anyone in the area, or if you want to come, please call 603-448-5121. Or just show up in Colburn Park! My full tour schedule is here.
p.p.s. Add your own splatters in the comments.