Earth Day is this week, April 22 to be exact, and all week schools, charity organizations, businesses and more are taking a closer look at what we can do to protect the environment, reduce our carbon footprint and prevent pollution.
No doubt the havoc we’re wreaking on our environment with pollution is a major problem, and we should all be doing a little more to protect Mother Earth. However, today, I want to talk about a different kind of pollution.
I want to be more personal and direct and talk about how your attention is polluted, and how that is wreaking havoc on your own little environment.
Several weeks ago I heard or read (I think) the term “attention pollution.” I was immediately intrigued by the idea, but in my quick research, I can’t find where I read the phrase, and Google wasn’t helpful either. So, while I wanted to properly attribute the phrase, now I can’t find it anywhere else. (Note: If you have a reference to its use and can point me to it, please do, and I will adjust this article!)
Perhaps I dreamed it. Regardless where it came from, it is definitely a lesson worth learning. Consider this.
Your attention is among your most valuable possessions, allowing you to think, learn, solve problems, make memories, show gratefulness, love and much more. You need to use it wisely.
That’s why, despite your protestations that you can multitask, the research is clear and definitive that you can’t. Your brain can switch between tasks quickly, and while you may feel like you are doing “two things at once,” you are really, at the very best, doing each of them at 70%.
When I searched for the definition of the word “pollution,” I found: “The presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects.” The definition makes sense to me and applies completely to our attention too, doesn’t it?
Here is a short list of what is polluting/poisoning your attention. (Feel free to add your own items and/or details to this list.)
- Other people
- Phone calls
- The radio (or streaming music service)
- Your latest or favorite playlist
- The television (or Netflix, or Hulu, or your DVR or YouTube)
- The latest news story/catastrophic event
- Text messages
- Your cell phone (in general)
- The beeps, buzzes, and notifications on any of your devices
- Social media
- Your favorite app(s)
- The internet (in general)
It is clear that the negative personal impacts of attention pollution are pretty dire. Yet, we seem to largely ignore the polluters, or worse, we call them “progress.” I’m neither a technophobe nor an extreme environmentalist. Of course there are trade-offs that come with some of the industries and situations that are impacting our natural resources – and the same is true with the technologies and advances that are impacting our attention.
The pollution I am describing here is subtler than some trash on the side of the road or an obvious spill in the water. In fact, you might not consider any of the things I listed as polluters. Still, when the number of distractions grow to the point that we seldom (never?) have time to stop and think about important (or even random) things in our lives, it has long-term and unforeseen effects on our life, our health and our success. Let me be direct:
When do you stop and think?
When do you reflect on your day, year, choices or life?
If you don’t like your answers, it’s time to consider what is polluting your attention, and it is time to take responsibility for guarding your attention with the fervor it deserves.
This week and all year long we are faced with the damage we are doing to our environment, and that awareness begins to create change. This article is meant to create a new awareness for you. Your attention is valuable, BUT it is polluted.
What can you do, starting now, to make effective, long-lasting changes that will clean up and improve your mental environment?