Below, I’ve tried to explain the path that led me to conclude we need to manage and strip-back all the ‘inputs’ that clutter our lives. I started down this route because I wanted to gain some focus on what I need to do next to help my brain continue to recover. And let’s face it, we all need to look after our brains.
I arrived at the conclusions, below, after a fair bit of reading and research. Hopefully, you can get the benefits without having to do the work.
Brains have to select what to do. We humans can’t multi-task with things that involve our current or working memory. We can only concentrate on one thing. At best, we’re able to switch our attention between a couple of parallel tasks.
Finding it hard to block out distractions is nothing new. It’s always been like this. But what is new is the amount of distractions we have to handle. The sheer amount of information that’s out there, of all sorts and accessible to pretty well everyone, is overwhelming. As a result, it’s easy to feel that life these days consists of being constantly nagged with an endless amount of distractions.
Yes, social media is the obvious source of distractions – every new notification that arrives on your smart phone chips away at your ability to concentrate. But the route by which the nags arrive in your brain doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we all have a finite amount of attention available for us to use, and we all have a limited amount of time in which to use it.
Of course, some calls on your attention, some nags, are for your own good. For example, they might be to warn you of a potential danger. But governments, companies, news writers and so on are all very good at nagging you for their ends, not for your benefit. The words and pictures you see and hear as you go about your day aren’t random. They’re picked as being likely to trigger a response from you – the response the people doing the picking want. Buy something, think something, do something, want something … it’s endless, it’s sometimes crass, it’s often subtle.
And on top of these external distractions, there are internal ones too. Your own thoughts, memories, worries, regrets, wishes and hopes. A by-product of living in our information-rich era is that we live lives full of ‘what ifs’. We end up too aware of all the things we could do or could have done, might do or should have done … etc. But that awareness doesn’t come with an assessment of how possible all these what-ifs might actually be. They don’t come with a reality check.
But so what? What does it matter that we’re nagged and distracted? It matters because nags and distractions can easily make anyone unhappy, sometimes deeply so. And it matters because every nag and every distraction steals energy and time. And that matters because you end up with less energy and time to spend on the things that will actually make your life better – the things you’ve consciously chosen to care about.
And no-one has limitless energy. And everyone’s time is finite.
It is with all that in mind that I say we owe it to ourselves to cut down on the nags and distractions in our lives. I know my life’s the better for my own efforts to date. And yes, the discipline required to de-clutter might well be significant in its own right. But at least it’s in your own control.