How often are we really present in what we are doing! Does family time go without checking notifications or responding to messages on phone? Does work move without getting caught up in surfing random websites? For that matter, does even checking an intended 5 minutes video go without hopping on to some other sites?
One of the primary reasons for anxiety is 'overwhelm'. Unlike earlier times, when access to resources and information was a challenge, the problem of technology advancement and ease of communication is 'Excess of information'. It forces itself into our personal time and personal space. With the mind being occupied with multiple inputs, and wavering focus, this is a prominent player in the tech advanced times we live in. Business houses spend massively to grab the attention of the target segments, following them on what they surf, so that they can spoil them with feeds to scroll. And with that comes, information and choice overload.
Why does it matter? Because it takes over our ability to 'Focus'. Focus is foundational for all important spheres of our life where the stakes are high. Health, family, career, job performance, business, personal growth, and planning of our future life- all these require 'Focused Attention'.
Focusing and a longer span of attention have become difficult for many of us which we perhaps recognize, but still, give in.
While information and communication in principle serve us better, unregulated consumption and engagement derail us from the plans which were significantly easier to follow through, if not for these distractions. It becomes a matter of concern when we pay a huge cost for this progress. If the information consumption and the choices are aligned with the goals we set for ourselves, they can contribute to getting closer to them. But if they are not, they are distractions and if anything beyond that, only entertainment.
The opportunity cost in this case is huge. It impacts mental health as well with dire consequences such as strong feelings of guilt, low self-worth, failure to meet deadlines, responsibilities, lost opportunities, insecurity due to the lost opportunities and uncertainty of future, and engaging in unhealthy behavior to deal with the resultant stress. We may or may not be aware of what deviated us but fall back into the same rabbit hole.
Don't we need this progress? Do we go back on our advancements or is it even practical? Not really. Living with these advancements is our new reality. With changing times, we are only going forward with more applications and friendly modes of communication that will be very compelling to use.
We need a framework to live with them. We need strategies to close the doors on things that don't serve us. Given below are certain ways in which we can gain control and optimize our attention:
1) Cultivating awareness of our triggers-
The triggers could be from outside or from inside of us. We could recognize the things that divert us. Are the triggers coming from the environment? At what point, do we feel compelled to divert? Are the triggers to defocus coming from internal stimuli? Is there a pattern? Journaling is a great tool to develop awareness.
2) Having a deliberated filtering process to consume information and engage in networks-
Welcome information only when you actively seek it. Don't keep the doors open for information and opportunities to drag you into decision-making. The more the opportunities, the more we get entrenched into giving it our attention. The decision-making process could be reserved for things that are relevant. Do not be available to be pulled into numerous choices, numerous networks of people, chat groups, spaces unless they add to your values.
3) Structuring our day based on personal values-
The objective of this is not to function in a military-style rigid schedule. But structure serves as a reference point to fall back on. Having a framework eliminates dealing with 'decision fatigue' multiple times a day and to quickly settle into activities that matter. The more decision-making opportunities, the more is the chance to go back to our automatic ways of behavior and slipping back to defocus mode. If we want to make time for entertainment, connecting with people for a casual chat, and any pleasurable activities, it can be provisioned in the structure as well. The idea is to cultivate a habit of engaging in activities by consciously choosing it. And not because of its compelling pull and 'barging in' mechanism. If we do not use our time based on our values, we are likely to be carried away by lesser priorities that show up as urgent.
4) Being assertive-
Cultivate the assertiveness to say 'no' to things that don't add value to our life. Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for self and not displaying arrogance. We can respectfully decline invitations, respectfully communicate where we want to be, what we want to engage in, and set boundaries.
5) Designing our zone-
Imagine standing in a crowded Sunday market with people walking all around you and sellers calling out their offers while you are trying to have a conversation with family. Now draw a parallel to virtual space with multiple people throwing their feeds into your space! Just like the market is not a place to be in unless we are shopping, having a crowded virtual space is not the atmosphere to be in when we have personal plans.
We have to strategically ignore the environment, people, information, groups, network, situations we do not want to engage in and end up spending our resources in correcting the repercussions. And those resources could be mental, financial, physical, or emotional.
Our real and virtual environment should make it easier to narrow down our focus to things that matter. The design comes to our rescue when will power depletes.
To gain Focused Attention, it is important that we call the shots and not let others whose objectives differ from ours call the shots for us.
We can design our virtual and physical space by putting in the components that provide an encouraging and supportive environment for our goals. It is not intended to disconnect with people but to connect in conscious and meaningful ways.
Having a framework enables technology and communication to serve us and keep 'overwhelm' at bay. It promotes personal effectiveness on one hand and psychological health on the other.