What Is Attention Activism?
You might already know mindfulness is all about attention. When we practice mindfulness, we often pay attention to our bodies or our breath — and when our mind inevitably wanders, we gently bring our attention back. As we sit in reflection, there are different ways to pay attention: We can focus on our emotions (both positive and negative), or cultivate an open awareness of the world around us. We can even use our attention to invite visualizations or chant mantras.
Attention Wars in the Modern World
The modern economy is all about attention. Businesses flourish when they can command our attention; we don’t have to look too far for examples. Media companies push polarizing statements to get our attention, and it works. Content creators make millions from videos that get lots of eyeballs. We live in an exponential age where every corporation, political party, and content creator competes for our limited time and focus. With a one-stop shop in the palm of our hands, scrolling can engage us for hours. And today, we use tech more and more for necessary, mundane tasks: grocery shopping, doctors’ appointments, and filing taxes can all be done online. A simple tap on a screen can engage our senses and trigger our brains’ reward circuits, satisfying needs for social connection and making us feel influential and important. But if we are not careful, this easy connection can distract us from negative emotions and a sense of peace.
Of course, our minds and mental wellbeing are affected by where our attention goes. It’s not easy to keep a calm mind that flows smoothly — our society bombards our minds with attention- grabbers constantly. The challenge is to not get swept away in the current. That’s attention activism. It’s a practice that highlights the need to reclaim our attention with intention.
Mindfulness in Action
Science shows that introducing more mindfulness into our lives ultimately influences areas of the brain that are responsible for attention. The more we meditate, the more we strengthen our ability to focus. As our attention gets fragmented, our quality of life degrades. When that model disrupts our wellbeing, it crosses an important line.
True wellbeing depends on using tech with intention. Of course, there is nothing wrong with watching our favorite shows occasionally. The problem emerges when you function on autopilot and lose track of how you direct your attention. When you stop choosing how to live your life and, instead, let the powers that be choose for you, you let your attention get harvested by the highest bidder.
3 Ways to Practice Attention Activism
•Try this 15-minute meditation that will help you greater understand where you attention is going, and how you can step back and start intentionally investing your attention.
•Practice hyperawareness. Pay attention to where your attention feels pulled throughout the day — specifically look for instances where you may be operating on autopilot: Do you let the next episode automatically start streaming while watching Netflix at bedtime? Do you pick up your phone to check Instagram or email multiple times per hour without even thinking about it? Part of attention activism is reintroducing choice back into where you focus your attention. Notice where your attention goes without your explicit consent, so you can start to regain choice.
•Identify an app on your phone that eats a lot of your attention and delete it. I know it sounds scary. Even though I work in tech, I don't have email on my phone. Delete an app that you're afraid to delete; one that's convinced you that you can't live without it—you can always add it back later. Try living without it for one week, and see how you feel at the end of the experiment.
Attention Activism in Practice
Attention activism opens the door to cultivating spaces for authentic choices, so when we choose to use technology, we choose well and enjoy it. From this active place of chosen attention, we can also choose to turn it off, disconnecting when we really need some peace and quiet. Attention activism, at its core, empowers us to make conscious choices — training yourself to choose what you want to pay attention to and maintaining ownership of your conscious awareness. Attention activism is spirituality, self-care, and activism all in one.
The seemingly simple focus on attention activism may feel like an act of defiance to the status quo. We can all accept that the world we live in demands our attention, but we can reclaim our mind through dedicated training. My course, Mindfulness Meditations for Attention Activism will show you how. I teach how to train your mind to survive in the media-rich environment we live in and manage the effects, temptations, and overstimulation that surround us daily. Once we restore balance, we learn to thrive in it, using the best of tech without getting sucked into the worst of it.
In this intentional living, we are able to find space for authenticity and reclaim our freedom of attention to benefit our individual spirituality and wellbeing — and also support the collective “us” by doing our part to reclaim an irreplaceable resource for us all.
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