In Search of Mental Focus and Clarity

Those of you that have been following along with my posts recently know that this year has been filled with experiments in pursuit of a more focused mind. My meditation practices, social media sabbaticals, and reading are all guided towards figuring out what’s working with my relationship to the internet, and what I want to get a better handle on, and how to develop deeper habits of mental focus.

I love tech and also I want to understand and stay smart about my habits, impulsivity, and addictions. Because make no mistake: tech is an addiction, for sure.

The only thing that these companies want (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, and news) is for you to keep coming back and spending more time there.

AnchorMedia addictions, loss of attention, and designing our work patterns for success

Get this: the average person checks email 74 times per day and spends 28% of their time on email. Some studies report that half of our workdays are now spent on “messaging” applications (from email to Slack to chat rooms to text messages, it makes sense, and it’s also terrifying). People reportedly spend 2-3 hours per day on social media, and, in monitoring my own usage in the past, I know that I’m right there in the averages.

Am I okay with this? I’m not sure. It depends what you want and what you get out of it.

It’s worth asking two critical questions:

  1. Is this the best use of my time?
  2. Am I getting what I want out of this relationship?

If life is exactly as you want it, then there’s not a problem. This is always an important question—because we don’t need to spend time solving things that aren’t problems! But if you’re wondering if there’s a faster way to write your book (I definitely am), or if you could have a more creative, focused mind (another question I’m asking), then it might be time to reflect and experiments.

What other writers have said about developing mental focus

There are so many books out there about habits, behaviors, and social media (I just finished reading Unsubscribe), but most of the books don’t go far enough, in my opinion. It’s not enough to develop tools and strategies for managing and mitigating what’s in front of us. I haven’t found enough writers who talk about how sticky, addictive, and compulsive these applications are and strategies that actually work for untethering from their addictive grasp. How do we reduce or eliminate compulsive behaviors to create an ability to achieve mental focus and clarity of thought?

Spoken from my own experience, I’ve had nights where I’ll check Facebook on my phone late into the hours of night even though I simultaneously know I would rather be sleeping. Something about it compels me to want more.

In today’s world, the ability to pay attention is a rarity.

And yes, that terrifies me.

Designing monthly experiments to better understand mental focus

Earlier this year, I did a full social media sabbatical. Each month, I’ve been doing a new set of experiments to learn more about my behaviors. Why? So I can match what I’m doing with what I want to be spending my life time on.

This past August, I experimented with “parental controls” on my internet, email, and social time. Now that it’s September, I’m doing a “slow morning” process experiment (it involved sitting my kid down and having a talk with him about how early we wake up in the morning). I’ll continue to share the findings on my blog in the weeks to come and invite you to discussions around these questions.

These monthly experiments are the same style of the work we do in my Mastermind: we come together in a small group for a little over three months to create monthly experiments to study, learn, and adjust our behaviors towards the bigger dreams we’re actually after.

The format of the mastermind is based on two key ideas:

  1. We need to spend time planning at the quarterly level, with about three months’ time ahead of us, and,
  2. We need a practice for checking in every month on a 30-day cycle to see how things are going in order to make adjustments and pivot/tack towards our goals within the given timeframe.

There are only four opportunities each year to check-in to see how you’re progressing if you plan quarterly, and 12 experiments in any given calendar. It’s not that much. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important systems we can set up.

This methodology is based on my experience in startup land, where it’s hard to know where you’re headed two years from now, so a 90-day cycle is a great timeframe to plan within. Given that the current pace of work and technological change mean that jobs change every few years, this is a great strategy for everyone, not just startups.

We’re kicking off the next round of the Mastermind in just a few weeks (September 18th) so if you want to get behind the scenes of my goal-setting process, use my monthly planning template, and set up a goal for the next 90-ish days of your life in community with some really smart people, I invite you to apply to the program so we can have a chat.

What does your media life look like? How does it line up with your life goals?

But until then, think about what your media life looks like and how you’re setting yourself up for success. I’ll be writing a bit more about both of these topics — our attention and addictions to social media, as well as tools for planning and creating conditions for success — so if Mastermind’s not something for you, I’ll see you again shortly with my next essay.

Thanks for reading and for being a part of these conversations with me.


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