Hello from the American Midwest
Last week, I listened to an episode of the Ezra Klein show where Klein interviews Johann Hari on the topics of attention and focus. Near the start of the show, Klein said something about how he thinks about what he does and does not do has shifted. In the past, he would think about how he used his time, which turned to thinking about what he pays attention to with the available time. When I heard this, I paused the podcast and thought about what I had just heard.
I thought, hot shit and happy damn, that's smart.
Like most people, my attention is scattered. I know many people who believe that attention was easier to focus and maintain in the past. The rationale for this belief is that there was less stuff distracting people way back when. I'm not sure that's right. My guess is people in the past had different sorts of distractions, but I'm not sure that the human propensity to become distracted has not changed as much as people often suggest it has.
(I could be very wrong about this. I've not researched it or anything. I'm thinking out loud here.)
I say this because I'm almost 44, and I can remember a time before all the smartphones and the internet. Were things different then? Yeah, lots different. But I'm 100% positive that I often got distracted and had a hard time staying focused then too. In other words, the desire to be distracted is the same desire it was in the before times.
Having young children has fundamentally changed how I pay attention to things. Before kids, I could do lots more deep focus on things. I've usually got to have a significant amount of attention invested in making sure my kids are not doing something like eating things that will cause them harm, or climbing things they will fall off of, so on and so forth. And, because they are tiny, I've got to help them with so many of the things that they can't yet do on their own, like making meals, getting dressed, reaching things that are higher than four feet off the ground, etc.
(I'm often appalled when I look back at all the times before I had kids when I could have done lots of things that required deep focus, but instead, I watched TV or wandered around the internet. I'm sure other people who have kids have experienced their version of this terrible realization.)
Today I woke up at 4:15 am because one of my kids woke up freaking out because he could not find one of his stuffed animals. He could not find it because it was where he had left it yesterday: in our basement. Why did he realize this at 4:00 am? No idea, but he did. After that, I could not get back to sleep.
Having two different jobs (professor & psychoanalyst/psychotherapist) will consume most of the remaining available attention.
Be that as it may, I want to use my attention differently. My desire has shifted from wanting to be pleasantly distracted by all sorts of interesting things to wanting to do something that will take time, energy, and attention. I want to invest it into different things into long-term things.
How will I do this? The truth is, I don't know.