Since the beginning of time we’ve seemingly been increasing the quantity of things vying for our attention. Social media has taken this moderate trend and amplified it exponentially. What remains is our inability to focus and keep our attention on what we’re doing.
This inability to focus our attention has labels, such as ADHD, but this is not a binary diagnosis. Everyone has varying abilities to be present and stay on task without succumbing to distraction.
In Oliver Burkeman’s book, Four Thousand Weeks, he argues that patience has now become a ‘form of power.’ One’s ability to manage their tendency to multi-focus is a way to ‘gain purchase on the world.’
While being distracted is the symptom, what we often fail to diagnose the root cause, which is often the unyielding need to hurry life up. We can no longer allow to things to run their course. We need constant stimulation.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. We can be more aware of this behaviour and slow things down, be more patient.
To enable us to better maintain attention and focus, Oliver proposes three principles of patience:
- Develop a taste for having problems: problems will never go away. When one gets solved, the next biggest problem is next in line. And despite bemoaning the problems in our lives, without them life would lack meaning. It’s life’s challenges that engage us. Understanding this allows us to be present and accept the pace of change.
- Embrace radical incrementalism: set time-based goals for what you’re working on. Even if you’re on a roll and want to continue, be comfortable with stopping. It’s like flexing a muscle, the more you demonstrate the control to stop and return to it later, the more patience you’ll develop.
- Originality lies on the far side of unoriginality: I love this one! We often don’t find meaning in the mundane. We need to get to the exciting part, to avoid the drudgery within the trial and error that goes along with success. We need to have faith that being patient and doing the work when it’s not immediately rewarding will pay off in the end. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor were most projects worth taking on.
Developing this muscle of patience is yet another arrow in our quiver to fight back against all the factors usurping our focus.
And when in doubt…
Pause. Breathe, And Quiet the NOISE.