Distraction and the Brain-Body Connection
I wake up every morning with an agenda that starts with meditation, yoga and a brisk walk outside. Two hours later, when I finally get to my desk with a hot cup of tea and some morsel to hold me over until lunch, I feel I am always behind the 8-ball. The To-Do list is compartmentalized into scheduled time blocks throughout the day in an attempt to control and manage my output. Today, even before I started on the first block (completing this post,) an urgent email came through that I had to address. Then I realized I never really completed that invoice I had started last night, so I quickly got that done. Now ½ hour behind with a meeting scheduled in ½ hour, the day is rapidly cascading into evening with a domino effect that will leave at least one of my scheduled time blocks unchecked.
Picking up on my last post, 5 Tips to Stop Annoying Your Prospects, the subject of Attention has proven to be worthy of a deeper dive into the nuanced aspects of how this function of our psyches affects us on multiple levels. Originally planned as one post, as I have researched and read more about it, I have decided to break it up into several parts, this being Part 1.
With the phone and computer at our fingertips 24/7, we have allowed these devices to obscure our clear mental space—my consciousness. We live in a world dominated by technology. Even when we power down the computer and turn the mobile devices to silent, we often move to the television to “relax.” I’ve read that the most effective way to clear the mind is to curtail all “input” of information. Watching TV is still input, adding to the information already cluttering our minds. When does anyone ever sit in silence? If you ever find yourself or someone else in this state, the impulse is to ask, “What are you doing?” We have come to a collective mentality of constant “doing,” as if this is the overreaching virtue of humanity.
Why can’t I focus on one thing at a time and just methodically get it all done?
In my meditations, I often see more clearly how tenuous it is to maintain a thread of deliberate thought. Being meticulous about what is allowed to come into the forefront of our consciousness is a challenge we are facing as a culture. It’s why writers go to a remote cabin in the woods when working on a book. To maintain focus and escape distraction.
Environment & Technology
It’s easy to blame social media, our phones, flashing advertisements—all part of the sea of deliberate distractions in which we swim. But is that just a cop-out? Could it be that what’s happening with these “deliberate distractions” is that we have not addressed our own addictive, undisciplined behaviors associated with them? It’s not easy, and not only advertisers, but software designers and social media companies are becoming more and more sophisticated in their manipulations of our attention to their gain. Their products & services are designed to be addictive!
While emerging technology exists in service of creating a barrier to interruptive technology, our own brains are ultimately responsible, and they are overtaxed and faltering. The truth is, the neurological tools we have are ancient. Every time you check your phone you get a hit of “new information” dopamine, triggering addictive behavioir. When someone “steals” your attention, how do you get it back? Taking a good hard look at ourselves and how we respond to the world around us is part of it, but I think it’s going to take more than that.
The more intentional we are about communication and collaboration, the better it works with the human mind. Technology may have less to do with it than we think. It was supposed to make getting things done easier, but database-driven software telling us what to do actually DOESN’T WORK. The reality: work requires non-linear thinking & effort—it’s hard. But our brains are always looking for the quick fix – the shortcut.
The Brain-Body Connection
“Multi-tasking” doesn’t exist—the human brain was not designed that way. It’s really “Switch-tasking,” says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Distraction has a large cognitive impact—every time you divert your attention to something else, even for a moment, it takes the brain 5-15 minutes to get back to the level of focus you had before diverting your attention. One study shows people check their email every 6 minutes. This leads to even more unproductivity.
Shallow breathing makes us sluggish and tired. Rather than getting up and moving, it is common to go for another cup of coffee or other stimulants, which provide a temporary lift followed by a sharp drop in energy. I sometimes get up and dance around for 15 minutes instead of having caffeine in an afternoon slump, and have found that it is often even more helpful in elevating alertness than ingesting stimulants, if I can get myself to do it! Good music helps, and making it fun is key.
The more we move, the more deeply we breathe. Deep breathing can also be practiced without movement with many of the same benefits, as with the yogic practice of pranayama. Pulling more oxygen into the lungs increases blood flow and can open arteries, restoring the body and brain with fresh oxygenation.
There is a growing interest in clearing toxins from the body with diet and clean air that also affects brain function. Perhaps “toxic information” should be added to this “detox” approach, connecting mind and body. Eastern philosophies like yoga and martial arts have offered wisdom in this regard for centuries.
There’s so much more that can be explored with the brain-body connection regarding attention, but I’ll segue here to the context of this fascinating subject within marketing.
Marketing and Attention
In marketing, getting the attention of prospects is primary to any other steps that might make the sale. That said, as growth-oriented businesses, annoyance and anger is not the kind of attention we want to garner. Master marketer, Seth Godin, wrote the following about “The simple but difficult marketing flip:”
“From ‘Pay attention, I want you to buy what I made.’ To ‘I’ve been paying attention, and I think I can offer you what you want.’”
The flip is to give your attention first rather than demanding the attention of others. It makes sense, but this is not how traditional marketing has done it. Examining how the human brain and psyche works is a great stepping stone to creating lasting relationships with your audience. There are no easy answers—it’s an ongoing conversation and I invite your comments.
Look for my next post on attention in the next month or so, and in the meantime, if you’d like a little 1:1 time to brainstorm on your company’s approach to giving your audience your attention, set up a call, or for new prospective clients, a free session with me.