In the New Year, reclaim your focus and save yourself from attention-hacking, advises DAAJI KAMLESH PATEL
Back in 1971, Herbert Simon was anticipating the emergence of that precious human resource — attention. He said, “In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”
On an average, in a day, how much of your attention do you think you own? And what is hacking your attention? Attention hacking is now a commonly used term to describe the business model of social media. Reportedly, Facebook’s market capitalisation has reached $555 billion dollars and Google’s has reached more than $880 billion dollars. The search for information has become one of our most valuable commodities, up there with staples like food and clothing, and in terms of capitalisation, many times more valuable than petroleum.
If time management has traditionally been seen as the skill to have, today’s lifestyle has given pride of place to attention management.
Marketing teams know this well — they have taken marketing to a whole new level with all sorts of attention-hacking practices. Everyone is vying for a piece of the pie. So it is worthwhile to ask: What sustainable attention education is available? What are worthwhile sustainable attention practices? And what sustainable attention policies exist that are conducive to our individual and collective well-being?
Let’s explore the findings of some scientific research on this topic. Matthew Killingsworth has been conducting an ongoing experiment at Harvard University using a mobile application to measure the quality of attention of people. The app contacts participants at random moments during their waking hours, asking them to report in real-time the status of their thoughts, feelings and actions during their daily activities. The database currently contains nearly a quarter of a million samples from about 5,000 people from 83 different countries, who range in age from 18 to 88, and who collectively represent every one of the 86 major occupational categories.
Killingsworth found that mind wandering occurred on average 47% of the time, and that people were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not. It is not only that unhappiness makes us unfocused, but also that a lack of focus leads to unhappiness. What does this mean for each one of us? Do we spend our attention capital the way we want, in a sustainable and fulfilling fashion, or are we at the mercy of outside influences? And most importantly, how can we change the status quo so that we reclaim our attention?
Actually, the methods and practices are already there. They have been there for thousands of years, but in the last century, they have become accessible to everyone the world over. These methods are the ancient practices for the mind, which are usually called meditation or Raja Yoga. The purpose of these methods is to withdraw thoughts from all sides and orient them towards the source of all existence, so that the power from that source starts flowing into the person meditating. Through these meditative practices, attention is very simply reclaimed.
What is the first step in this process? It is to bring our attention inwards towards the cherished goal — this we know as pratyahara in yoga. Then we learn to regulate thoughts, by distilling the essence of thinking from scattered, chaotic multi-directional thinking to single-pointed thinking, in an effortless way. We reduce the constant background chatter of the mind. That, in itself, is a wonderful skill, but it is also not yet meditation, only the prelude to meditation that we know as dharana in yoga.
The effortless focus of our thinking then needs to be given a direction — meditation on our chosen object of attention. In Heartfulness Meditation, attention is directed gently towards the infinite centre of our being, the divine light in the heart. In the process, as we dive inwards, we first connect with the intuitive world of feeling. This in turn helps us to dive deeper still, so that we experience inner being. And eventually, inner identity dissolves, so that there is a state of oneness with everyone and everything. We access universal states of consciousness and go beyond consciousness. Through this journey, we start to understand the real purpose of human life. And it is all made possible by simple meditation on the heart, supported by yogic transmission, which helps to uncover our human potential and birthright. As we start imbibing this yogic transmission, we start resonating with the source of the transmission. This, in turn, triggers the ripple effect of spreading wherever there is receptivity. As a result, the mind becomes a useful instrument for everyday living. We reclaim our attention. And, let’s face it; attention is what is constantly being hacked in our digital age. Managing attention has become more vital than managing time. So regaining mastery over attention through meditation is a great gift.
But having focused attention, concentration and a super mind do not in themselves make us happy and fulfilled. It is when we bring the heart into the picture that we really uncover the key to human existence. Giving due attention to feelings, aspirations and potential, through the heart, provides us with the inner anchor to spend our attention on purposeful and needed information. There is a shift in paradigm, from randomly taking in whatever is on offer in our environment, to consciously nurturing a very precious resource: heartful attention. We learn to listen to the heart, use intuitive intelligence, make wise decisions, and find clarity and purpose in life. What better way to start the New Year than taking a few minutes every day to close your eyes and meditate! All the best for 2020!
■Follow Daaji Kamlesh Patel at speakingtree.in