This post is a follow up to one that I wrote a few months ago (that you can read here if you want).
What is the most abundant, yet most precious thing that we own? As long as we live this faculty runs our lives, yet we give it away like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a little thing called attention.
Attention is becoming the new commodity. Advertisers spend billions of dollars each year vying for the chance for your eyeballs to delight in their commercials, so that you will spend your hard earned money on their (mostly) bullshit products. The ironic thing is that the corporations that spend the most amount of money pushing their products are usually the one’s who are selling shit that seriously hampers our quality of life. Think things like fast food, Coke and other sodas, and credit card companies (if used poorly).
Most of us go through our days in a trance like state where our attention is rarely, if ever, consciously controlled. Each thought that passes through our minds demands our focus, and every negative emotion that creeps up our spines traps us in confusion, anger, or fear. If we want any semblance of lasting happiness in our lives this default mindset needs to be changed.
Every week I go to a Zen meditation group. Last week I asked the teacher a question about my practice since I was frustrated. It felt like I couldn’t hold my attention stable for even two seconds without being swept away in thought. Being a very direct man, he told me that this habit of frustration probably permeates my whole life. At first I was a bit taken back. Who the hell is this guy telling me about my life. Right?! But the more I reflected the more I realized that, unfortunately, he’s absolutely correct. When I’m at work I stare at the clock until I can go home. When I’m at home I’m swiping right on Tinder or looking at my eBay account in an attempt to escape the restless boredom that I often find myself in.
I need to change this habit of dissatisfaction and mindlessness if I want to enjoy my life. Thankfully there are many ways to go about doing this that don’t involve meditation (although meditation is a great tool). Here are three quick ways to build your psychological immune system and attention:
Doing a simple gratitude practice for one week has been shown to boost our baseline happiness level for up to 6 months afterwards. This ROI is insane. If you’re like me, and you grew up in a relatively affluent area in a first world country then you may take a lot of things for granted. I know I do. At first glance it’s easy to think there is very little to be grateful for. After all Donald Trump is president, ISIS is blowing people up everyday, and aspirin costs about $15 per pill in the hospital. But, like panning for gold, we need to sift through the mud and shit to find the glimmers of fortune. Every night I write down 5 things that I am grateful for. Doing so takes about 2 minutes, but this simple practice has opened my eyes to some of the everyday things that can actually add a lot of pleasure to my life: the sound of birds, the sun, the feeling of a shower. You know dorky stuff like that. This practice is like slowly cleaning the dirt of off your windshield. You’ll realize that the scope of what you can see is much bigger when your windshield is clean.
2. Cut out media
By media I’m mainly talking about the news, although cutting down on social media would be useful too. The news is a source of so much anguish and dogma. We don’t touch a hot stove since we know it will hurt, so why the fuck do we listen to or watch the news stations which create the emotional pain of a thousand hot ovens. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Conservative, it really doesn’t matter since both sides of media suck just as much. They’re both ‘Fake News’. There is one blaring similarity between the news stations that gets lost in the shuffle between Kim Kardashians latest outfit and Mitch McConnell’s newest bill: both stations have advertisements. The news stations are nothing more than instruments to generate income, so of course they are going to air controversial and frightening stories since fear sells and the more fear=the more viewers= the more $$ for them. Throw away your television, or better yet sell it on eBay. Your life will be much calmer.
3. Realize the Potential
The potentiality of our minds is hidden behind a barrage of constant thoughts. The hectic pace of modern life has caused our mind to become like an elephant’s hide: thick, tough and unable to experience the nuances of experience. A man much smart than me made this comparison. Tarthang Tulku, a modern Tibetan meditation master, makes this comparison in his book Kum Nye Relaxation, which is a great resource for accessible exercises that can help develop your mind: “We do not realize that through neglect, our senses have toughened like an elephant’s hide.. Until we gently soften this toughness be developing the natural energies of our feelings and sensations, we cannot open to the full field of experience.” Doing some things to benefit your mind will cause it to soften a bit so that the potential reveals itself. Think about it rationally for a minute. The same mind that creates dream worlds at night is the same one with us during the day. The potential is there, we just need to wake to it and access it.
There you have it. Three easy ways to build your psychological immune system. I’m sure there are hundreds of more ways to develop our minds. Did I miss any of your favorite techniques?