zen habits : breathe

How to Reclaim Your Attention

By Leo Babauta

Awhile back I (a bit ironically perhaps) tweeted this message:

Consider what you give your attention to each day. It’s a precious resource, & determines the shape of your life.

This seemed to strike a chord with many people, who I think are feeling overwhelmed these days. Our attention is being pulled in too many directions, leaving us feeling overloaded, distracted, chaotic, spread thinly, without focus.

There are a million blogs, people, services, media, competing for our attention. Our attention is limited, and valuable, making it one of the most precious resources we have.

The world wants that attention. Only you can decide where it goes.

And it does determine the shape of your life: what you pay attention to becomes your reality. If you watch and read the news all the time, you will become obsessed with the latest crises. If you watch and read about celebrities, your life will revolve around them. If you socialize on social networks all day long, this will become your world.

If instead, you choose to give your attention to work you’re passionate about, that you feel is important, that will change your life and the world in some small way … this will become your life.

If you choose to give your attention to your friends, family and other loved ones — really give your attention to them instead of only half-heartedly while also checking text messages and emails and other updates — your life will be rich in many ways.

And so I urge you to reclaim your attention.

Here’s how:

1. Limit your friends. Not real-life friends, but social network and blogging and forum friends. Not that these can’t be good relationships, but having too many makes them meaningless. And each friend will take up a little bit of your attention — when you read their updates, click on their links, reply to their messages, look at their photos, and so on. The more you have, the more attention they’ll require. Limit them to just the essential. Read more.
2. Limit your feeds. Blog subscriptions, newsletters, other updates and news subscriptions and so on. Limit them to a handful of essentials, and let the rest go. The more you have, the more attention they require.
3. Limit your communication time. Going into your email inbox? Just give yourself 10 minutes to read, reply, delete, and get out. Going to do Twitter? Give yourself 5 minutes. Seriously, set up a timer. Don’t let these things take up all your attention.
4. Give up on news. It’s a never-ending cycle. And if you’ve paid attention to the news as long as I have (I’m a former journalist), you know it’s all the same, year after year. Unless your job depends on it, the news is usually a waste of your attention. Let go of the need to stay updated. Even if your job does depend on it, keep it limited.
5. Be brief. Write brief emails, tweets, updates, blog posts. With some exceptions, of course. But make brief your de facto. Read more.
6. Give your attention to the important. This is the crucial part: choose what you give your attention to, and do this choosing carefully. What is important to you? Writing? Photography? Design? Coding? Creating a new business that helps others? Your kids? Figure this out, and give this the majority of your attention.
7. Become conscious of your distractions. Once you’ve decided to focus your attention on the important, become more aware of distractions as they come up. Make note of them, and as you get the urge to be distracted, learn to pause, breathe, and return to the important.
8. Surround yourself with the positive. If you want your life to be positive, let the positive have your attention. This applies to blogs, people, projects, and more.



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