The Key to Greatness

Yeah, I don’t really have a quick answer for that but it seems to revolve around concentration. This includes making 2750 free throws in a row. Concentration is something I find I lack. Part of this comes from my addiction to technology. But part of it is deeper and relates to the negative affect the modern world has on our evolutionary instincts. In the past, things that grabbed our attention kept us alive. Hmmm, is that a saber-tooth tiger or a palm frond? Let’s run like fuck, just in case. And hopefully, I’m faster than you. Which I am. But that’s a different story.

Today, things that grab our attention do just that, steal attention away from the important things. It’s all around us. It’s a sick addiction, one that some of us happily wrap a big rubber band around our arm for and ask for more. But it makes us smaller, less interesting, less great, like all addicts. Funny thing is, it’s damn difficult to counteract. It’s hard to over come evolution, even if it’s killing us now.

I think that’s why I find writing so difficult now. Even in my journal (which I haven’t written in for 3 weeks or so-ack), after 15 minutes, I’m dying, mentally itching to be distracted or find another task that takes less time and much less attention. This is a fucking stream-of-consciousness-journal-about-my-boring-ass-life for god’s sake. How much less attention can something take? Well, there’s always the internet. Or unloading the dishwasher. Or having another drink. None of which is anything I’d ever want to have written in my fucking obituary.

I read an article once about life that said it (life) should be made up entirely of things you’d want written in your obit. But those things take attention. They absolutely completely fucking command it. And yet, we’ve overdrawn our attention account and can’t write the attention check to manage 15 minutes in a journal. How do you make yourself attention rich? Beats the living hell out of me but if you find out, let me know. Technology makes life easier and better but it also makes it cheaper and not in a “Everything’s cheaper on the Interweb” sorta way. It makes it cheaper by increasing the things that demand our attention, yours and mine, and steals it away, divides it into tiny little meaningless increments that add up to a life no one in their right mind (or left brain) could ever write an obit about.

That makes me sick. And yet, like any addict, I feel almost powerless to change it. Trust me, if there was an attention methodone pill, I’d be down at the clinic every day at the crack of dawn begging for it. But there isn’t. The only thing you can do is remove things that demand attention until the only ones left are important. Do you understand how impossible that is to do today? Can you fathom not having a cell phone? Internet at work? Jangly, shiny things at Wal-Mart? No, you can’t fathom it. Because it scares you. And it scares me.

That’s what addiction does, it makes you think you can’t survive without it. It steals time away from what makes up life and turns it into worry and fear. Addiction allievates your fear of committment. It takes strength to live life unaddicted. More strength than most of us have these days. When was the last time you spent more than 30 minutes doing something that required your full and utmost attention? I’d wager this is a bigger epidemic than obesity (and that’s saying something these days).

The amount of addiction in your life is inversely related to the amount of attention in your life. Which side of the scale is heavier for you?

4 comments on “The Key to Greatness

  1. Very nicely written. I’d wager it took you more than 15 minutes of concentration to write it. I completely understand what you’re saying. I never thought I had an attention problem until the past 10 years or so, when I find myself unable to concentrate on things anymore. I think it largely coincides with the rise of the internet and the fact that the internet is my job. I love to read, always have, and I can’t even concentrate on a book for more than 20 minutes at a time anymore, even books I love. EXCEPT: in Belize. I spent hours reading in Belize, and it was easy. Why? No distractions, maybe.

    Part of me wants to change, to throw out all the distractions, but the bigger part of me, admittedly, doesn’t. Yoga helps a little, it forces you to TRY TRY TRY to shut your brain off for an hour, which is the hardest thing in the world for me to do, I’m not even sure I have an off switch. But I try.

    Getting in the habit of something is also helpful. Routines, habits. Doing something every day, something creative and concentration-needy. Like thinking about what photo I am going to take. Or writing in my journal. Repetition makes it a little easier to get into the right mindset. But as soon as I get out of the habit, BANG – I can’t do it anymore, and it feels like I don’t even want to.

    You might find “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield very interesting. Bonus: The book is broken up into short chapters and snippets that are perfect for the something-shiny-disorder afflicted among us. I can loan it to you if you’re interested.

  2. Very nicely written. I’d wager it took you more than 15 minutes of concentration to write it. I completely understand what you’re saying. I never thought I had an attention problem until the past 10 years or so, when I find myself unable to concentrate on things anymore. I think it largely coincides with the rise of the internet and the fact that the internet is my job. I love to read, always have, and I can’t even concentrate on a book for more than 20 minutes at a time anymore, even books I love. EXCEPT: in Belize. I spent hours reading in Belize, and it was easy. Why? No distractions, maybe.

    Part of me wants to change, to throw out all the distractions, but the bigger part of me, admittedly, doesn’t. Yoga helps a little, it forces you to TRY TRY TRY to shut your brain off for an hour, which is the hardest thing in the world for me to do, I’m not even sure I have an off switch. But I try.

    Getting in the habit of something is also helpful. Routines, habits. Doing something every day, something creative and concentration-needy. Like thinking about what photo I am going to take. Or writing in my journal. Repetition makes it a little easier to get into the right mindset. But as soon as I get out of the habit, BANG – I can’t do it anymore, and it feels like I don’t even want to.

    You might find “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield very interesting. Bonus: The book is broken up into short chapters and snippets that are perfect for the something-shiny-disorder afflicted among us. I can loan it to you if you’re interested.

  3. My short and easily interrupted attention span has found an excellent home in the world of advertising, where a short attention span actually makes you better at the job, since any workday at an ad agency consists of ten thousand interruptions, no matter what your function at the agency.

    Too, I figure I could always retire and become an air traffic controller, where the same principle applies.

  4. My short and easily interrupted attention span has found an excellent home in the world of advertising, where a short attention span actually makes you better at the job, since any workday at an ad agency consists of ten thousand interruptions, no matter what your function at the agency.

    Too, I figure I could always retire and become an air traffic controller, where the same principle applies.

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