It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I had remembered something I needed to check on Google. I opened the laptop and out of habit launched Facebook instead and started scrolling through the news feed. Almost immediately I could feel myself forgetting what I was supposed to be doing. Then bang, one more finger scroll past a stupid cat meme and it was gone. It took only 10 seconds for me to forget what I opened the laptop for.
This is part of the problem we’re facing today.
But it’s not only the fact we so distracted and our attention spans are getting shorter than that of a goldfish, we are also overwhelmed by the sheer stupidity of what’s going on in the world. If you’re aware enough you can feel yourself being tossed around emotionally and psychologically by social media and its flow on effects. There’s the racist meme your uncle shared, the political ad that keeps coming up and you know is complete rubbish or some click bait headline where the lines between real and fake are so blurred even you don’t even know what’s real or not (and you’ve even done the research).
And it’s not restricted to the internet either. Politicians, special interest groups, TV and even Joan in payroll at your office, now see legitimacy in this new golden age of bullshit and distraction. And once where we tried to avoid topics like politics and religion at dinner parties, it now seems an innocent meal with friends and family can feel more like being on the panel of ABC TV’s Q and A.
The sheer amount of uninvited opinions, self-important outrage, the right to be easily offended and the constantly shifting sands of reality can be completely overwhelming, even for relatively well adjusted people. In a world where we’re meant to be more connected than ever, most of us just want to run and hide.
However, in this Golden Age of Bullshit and Distraction, there is something we can do.
There is hope for us.
Six years ago, I went totally off the grid for 30 days as part of an experiment I undertook for my book, Turning Inside Out: What if everything we’ve taught about life is wrong? I wanted to test some ideas I had about how to live a better, more focused life and the results were pretty astonishing.
Now in 2019 there’s even more distraction than before when I ran the experiment, so I thought it would be a perfect time to revisit what I discovered (and still try and use today with varying degrees of success) and share it with you. I’ve slightly updated it from what was in the book, but the key points are the same.
5 suggestions for living a more centered, calmer life.
1. Notice when you get distracted and bring your attention back to your body.
Be aware of how different distractions pull your energy and attention away from you. Bring your attention back into yourself when you feel pulled out. Notice your body. How does it feel? Distractions can include social media, news, gossip, opinions and judgements that have nothing to do with you. Feel your feet on the ground. Spend more time looking out your own window than looking at social media. Remember to still be light and playful about it all. Notice if you feel any calmer.
2. Do more of what feels right.
Spend more time doing stuff that feels right to you. Activities that uplift and bring you joy. Such as creative expression, spending time in nature, listening to music, walking, going to museums or art galleries or eating Tortellini. Write a list and stick it on the fridge.
Be neutral about things you don’t want to do or don’t like. If you find yourself complaining, notice what it sounds like and how it makes you feel. Resist the urge to post it on social media. As they say, what you resist persists.
3. Trust everything will be fine.
Let go of the mental worry about situations and trust that they will work out for the best. I know all about anxiety as I’ve have lived with Generalised Anxiety Disorder all my life and I know that making the effort to change my wayward thinking actually helps.
These days we seem to reinforce each other’s anxiety instead finding ways to work through it or heal from it all together.
Life is too short to spend it as a nervous wreck.
4. Recognise fear.
When you feel fear and physical tightness, pause and look at what it’s all about. Where is it from? Is it a real or imagined fear? If it’s imagined, then it’s okay to move through it.
You’ll be fine.
Be brave, you can do it.
5. Notice subtle movements in your body, along with feelings and sensations. Also look for signs and synchronous events.
A lot of information comes to us non-verbally so you need to practise learning how to read the signs and take note. Being less distracted by things that don’t matter will make it easier for you to pick up signs and subtle hints and suggestions from the universe.
Escaping the existential distress
This exercise is not about running away or escaping reality. Far from it, it’s about connecting to what is more real than anything – You. If it’s escaping anything, it’s the existential distress caused by behemoth companies deliberately manipulating your emotions and attention so they can harvest your data and sell you shit you don’t need.
It’s about anchoring yourself in the here and now and discovering how wonderful life can be. It’s about keeping life simple and prioritising what is important to you.
What about the kids?
If we as adults are so distracted and overwhelmed, then how do you think that is making our kids feel? As I’ve heard over again, anxious parents make anxious kids. We owe it to the next generation to show them what really matters; being present, being honest, being kind and being genuine.
Spending time in a safari chair.
I don’t claim to be an expert in any of this as I’m still always working on it myself but there are things that I find work for me and they might for you too.
After I started to have sessions with my therapist, I’ve changed my morning routine. It involves checking emails and social media for 20 minutes as that’s how I connect with most of my readers and followers. Then I spend 30 minutes chilling back in one of the safari chairs my Dad passed on to me (they were apparently smuggled from the US to Canada in the late 60’s) and I’ve got a cup of hellishly delicious coffee and some a music from Insight Timer playing in the background. I don’t do anything except sit there and let the world come to me. It’s one of my happy places.
As I’ve discovered through experience, life is too short to spend it being overwhelmed and living as a nervous wreck. Life can actually be incredibly beautiful and I don’t want to miss out on that.
I hope you feel the same.