PAY ATTENTION: Your Last & Greatest Resource

Anna Ulmer
January 16, 2024

By the time you start reading this article you will already begin thinking about something else - not because you aren't enjoying it or finding value, but solely because your attention span has been significantly reduced over the past decade.

I suffer from the same issue. In fact, it’s a pretty big problem and it’s effecting our health and longevity.

Remember when you learned about goldfish only having the attention span of 9 seconds?

Humans now average 8 seconds

Information Overload

We live in a time where technology is exponentially taking over every aspect of our lives.

The leader of the free world uses Twitter as a viable political platform.

Technology is everywhere - but do we understand it?

Think about it: do you know how the things you use on a daily basis function? Dishwasher, shower, car, TV, cell phone, computer, the million apps you use on your phone? Could you fix any of these things by yourself or even describe how they work?

Most of us don't have any idea how our electronics work yet we depend on them every day. And some people are even entirely helpless on their own without it.

When they don’t work we even get pissed off and blame them for not working when we don’t have a fucking clue how they work in the first place.

Silly humans. We've become so used to everything being done for us and magically working we don’t even pay attention to the how of anything. That's dangerous. 

We've created some pretty amazing tools in a short amount of time and our technologies - from harnessing fire to a robot on Mars - are ultimately what sets us apart from all other creatures on this planet. 

We build cool shit. We then use said shit to build cooler shit. Now we're building shit to build shit for us.

But our tools have turned on us. 

We've become so comfortable with our modern lives we forget to pay attention - or can't pay attention because our brains can't keep up with all the stimuli we experience on a daily basis.

We literally don't have the bandwidth for self-contemplation. Overrun by distraction, we tend to just go through the motions and not live our lives to the fullest - or even take the time to figure out what that means to us.

And holy shit there a ton of ways to distract ourselves. There is a war where trillions of dollars are being waged to gain control of your attention and it’s a battle field that keeps getting bloodier as technology continues to exponentially grow.

We live in a FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) culture. There are literally billions of options and opportunities that we are exposed to through media every day. How the hell are we supposed to pick just a few?

We have forgotten how to filter attention

Instead of choosing to filter what we pay attention to we try to stretch our attention by multi-tasking. 

Taking on as much as we can throughout the day, always doing more - even when we have a free second of quiet we use it to check text messages, emails, or scroll through social media. It’s unrelenting.

We no longer know how to pay attention to what matters. 

Our minds are so polluted with information that most times we aren’t present with what’s happening right in front of us. We've grown disconnected to the things and people that matter most to us.

When was the last time you had a meal with someone and you didn’t bring out your phone?

When was the last time you left your house without your phone? 

How many times do we take our phones with us when we don’t need them? 

How often do you find yourself around the people you love while all being on your phones at the same time? 

What happened to the time when just one another's presence was enough?

It’s not entirely our fault. Our brains feed off of this shit.

“Smartphones are the new cigarettes.” -Mark Manson

Our brain chemistry is addicted to distraction - it's a survival instinct. 

Anything shiny, attractive, or fast moving activates our brain to pay attention - and everything these days is shiny and fast moving. 

When we pay attention to everything, we're paying attention to nothing.

And we're chemically addicted to the everything. The technologies you used are designed so that you will use them more. Every time your phone makes a sound to notify you of a text message, there is a small release of dopamine (a feel good drug) in the brain and you feel a micro dose of a high.

We're like lab rats pressing a buttons on our phones instead of levers trying to get a hit.

Should we really be worried?

The research is in: yup.

One study found that Millennials are MORE forgetful than seniors.  Another study found we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish….yeah that hurts.

We are patterning our brains to pay attention for shorter periods of time, thus decreasing our long term ability to pay attention.

To improve attention and memory we have to pay attention, or FOCUS on something that is challenging for an extended period of time.

One study found one of the most important things to ensure longevity is to concentrate on tasks for extended periods of time. In other words, always being distracted could literally be killing you.

But when we're able to focus on something so much that is sucks - like studying hours for that horrible test - we can actually improve our memory and live longer.

So how do we fix our attention problem?

Attention is our greatest resource

“What we think we become”- Buddha or some shit

Our thoughts form patterns that eventually become our perceived sense of self. From a molecular level these thoughts form neurological patterns in our brains - and eventually these thoughts can become the default for how we think and behave.

Certain things become automatic and we no longer have to consciously think about what we're doing - even if it's a complex task like driving. Ever drive home from work and realized you don’t know how you got there?

Well that shit happens on a personality level as well. If I think I am lazy, this little neurological thought pattern will form a groove in my brain. Thus, anytime the opportunity comes for me to be lazy or not, I will be more likely to be lazy because it’s what I've patterned to believe.  

This is why attention is so important. You must think about the thoughts that run through your brain and not simply react to them. 

They are who you are becoming. Are they what you want to become?

The good news is that you have the power to change it. You just have to learn how to pay attention.

We must become Attention Warriors. 

We must plan and execute our attention battles every day.

Think about a limiting belief you have about yourself (we all have them). For example: “I am not smart enough.” 

Those thoughts have become so ingrained in you that you now believe that you ARE THAT. But you are not that. You are just feeling that you are…and you can change that.

Try instead, “I need to put more effort into learning this.” Not smart enough suddenly transforms into a positive feeling of wanting to become better at something - instead of falsely identifying yourself as something you are not.

You can change who you are by changing your thinking

Seriously. Research has shown us you can physically create new neural patterns. So if you are your thoughts and you change your thoughts, you can change yourself.

You can rewrite the story of your life.

But you can’t do this when your attention is suffering. 

If you feel like you are not good enough and then spend too much time on social media going through perfect looking profiles of the life you wish you had, you will continue to believe you are not good enough. Your thoughts will keep going into that neural compartment of loserville.

Since we become what we think, attention is our greatest resource. 

Don’t become cat videos or addicted to hearts on Instagram. Pay attention to YOUR thoughts. Ensure they are yours and not someone else influencing your thinking. 

Notice patterns in your thinking during your everyday routines: what stories are you telling yourself? What are you paying attention to that is influencing your thoughts? 

Pay attention to your attention

Discern where to place your attention. Hint: it’s probably not with your Facebook feed. 

Choose the things that govern your attention - don't simply react to them.

It's an incredible time to be alive but we mustn't abuse the access to information so that it takes away from our humanity - it should make us better.

It's going to get harder as media and marketing are going to have to continue to get more and more creative on how to capture our increasingly fleeting attention spans.

And it's dangerous too because it's easier for corporations or the government to control the masses when we can hardly sit through more than 3 minutes of information. It’s much easier for them to slip things by us when we can’t pay attention.

So wake the fuck up and #payattention. There, I wrote it as a hashtag so you'd remember.

What you pay attention to will determine who you become.

Choose wisely. 

Anna Ulmer
Anna is a licensed Occupational Therapist, Mindfulness Educator, Yoga Teacher, & Holistic Health Enthusiast. She co-runs a Holistic Education Center in Costa Rica, Life Project Education, & is passionate about adventure, dancing awkwardly, & eating chocolate.


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