A personal journey of lifelong learning, sharing resources, creating things, and trying to be better.

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Disrupting the Attention-based Economy

New OfficeSource

Stop being easily swayed by anything that’s in front of you. Start living a value-based lifestyle.

When you wake up in the morning and get out of bed — or even before you get out of bed — what’s the first thing that grabs your attention? Whatever it is, it’s going to be responsible for your first thoughts of the day. Throughout the rest of your day, you’ll be faced with a bombardment of distractions that will grab your awareness away from what you’re doing.

We live in an attention-based economy. Companies and people can only sell you products and services if they first have your attention, after all. This is nothing new, but with the rise of clever marketing statics (ex. Data-collection, branded content, personalized advertisements, etc.) most people are often being sold things without even realizing it.

By way of technology, there have been privacy tools and blockers created as a way to negate these tactics. However, this is a band-aid solution to a deeper, fundamental problem of society.

This goes beyond the exploits of current revenue models. People easily get caught up paying attention to things that just drain them of their energy. Time and energy wasted on toxicity — reaction instead of action. It is easy to blame advancements in technology and platforms for this, but the uncomfortable truth is that it is a human problem.

There is little we are able to control in life. We cannot control the behavior or actions of others — and we cannot control what’s going to be in today’s news — but we can control ourselves.

If attention is the currency of our modern economy, then our pockets are full at the start of each day. Absolutely nobody can dictate what you spend your time thinking about — no matter how hard they try. Bringing power back to the consumer, then, is simple. The solution is to stop consuming.

This is, of course, far easier said than done. There is a heavy weight of responsibility on our collective shoulders — but it is not an impossible burden to lift. The ability to overhaul this system will come from forming a meritocratic community. To begin our dialogue and actions on the basis of a value-based philosophy instead of an attention-based one.

What does this mean, exactly? Start with the fundamentals — what do you value in life? What is your self-imposed purpose? These are not easy questions to answer, but again, they’re not impossible. Often times, exactly because of the everyday distractions and white noise that nags at us, we find ourselves too busy to stop and think about these kinds of questions.

Contrary to what you might think, things become far simpler when you truly know what you want out of life and yourself. When you raise your expectations and cut out everything that isn’t actually necessary for you to be happy.

Forge an identity for yourself out of your passion and who you want to become. Use your attention for good — learn new things, create something, help your community, spend time relaxing by doing things you truly love to do instead of mindlessly scrolling through the Internet for a lukewarm buzz.

There is beauty in getting used to the uncomfortable. People constantly search out entertainment simply because we’ve become so unused to boredom and being bored. The modern mind is restless and uneasy — always looking for a distraction — and this is explicitly why the attention-based economy has been able to do so well.

In all honesty, this approach to life is far more difficult. The human brain is designed to sleepwalk into habits and routines and to tread the path of least resistance. Mindfulness needs to be developed, as well as gratitude — we’re conditioned to think we don’t have enough and need to seek out more — even though we most often already have everything that we need.

With the sheer pace of advancement in technology and the changing tides of the world at large, nothing comes close to being predictable anymore. It’s honestly a scary thought to think of the path we’re headed down if people continue to allow themselves to be easily swayed and dependent on entertainment. A serious and long pause needs to be taken. By everybody.

Thanks for Reading!

The Want of Difficulty

The Ascent of Mont BlancSource

Using Momentum & Mindfulness to Work Harder

THERE’S A BATTLE within all of us. I try to detach for a moment, and recognize the duality — the two distinctive wants that battle for majority attention:

  1. The want of difficulty, and of seeking betterment for ourselves. Doing the right thing for the long-term, no matter how much hard work is needed.
  2. The want of ease, and taking the path of least resistance. Doing the easiest thing no matter how detrimental it might be long-term.

Biologically speaking, human beings have evolved to favor ease over difficulty. Though, our prefrontal cortex — the most complex and cognitive part of our brain — has the ability to want more than just what’s easiest, and tries to combat our more primal and sluggish behavior.

Often times, this is a battle we lose, and a vicious circle is created. When there’s a feeling of guilt after wasting the day away, which only demoralizes and causes further laziness.

In my opinion, the most effective way to defeat laziness within one’s self is by utilizing two different tools: momentum and mindfulness.

Momentum

I believe there is good reason why ‘morning rituals’ are so largely talked about in the field of self-improvement. (1, 2, 3) When you start the day on a good note, it’s far easier to continue it. An object in motion stays in motion.

But a good day is only a good day — there needs to be a larger picture. That’s where the idea of not breaking the chain comes in. The idea that you must commit to doing something daily without allowing yourself to slip.

The more consecutive days you have going for you, the more momentum you build. The more you’re willing to fight to make sure you don’t break the chain and keep your streak going. But what happens if you fail?

Mindfulness

When we find ourselves in the middle of a bad day, it’s easy to similarly continue on with it and dismiss trying to salvage anything good out of it. It’s easy to find excuses or lament after failure.

The best way to move on from this and redeem yourself is to realize that you’re the only one pinning yourself downward — the world does not care.

You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago. — Alan Watts

Do not try to hold onto your shortcomings and regrets, take the lessons you learn from these things then dismiss the rest of the negativity. It helps nobody, particuarly yourself.

It can be rather difficult to understand — let alone control — your emotions if you’ve let them run astray for too long. The stoic act of distancing yourself from the emotional, impulsive part of your mind is one that needs to be practiced.


CONCLUSION: If you want to use your time more effectively, and not waste it, work with improving what you’re already doing right, while also working on not being too hard on yourself. Hold onto the good, and let go of the bad.

The Trick of Time

Window and Clock, Musée d’Orsay | Source

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”

Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Time is all we have — and it is our only limited currency. You can always get more money, you can always get more energy, but you can never get back time that you’ve spent. No matter how healthy you live, no matter how good your genetics are, your time is rangebound.

What isn’t so transfixed is our perception of time. A day that is spent doing something that is completely novel and laborious feels exponentially longer than a day spent doing something that is routine and pleasurable. Our mind has the ability to stretch or shorten our sensation of time, depending on our activities and mood.

But the easiest way to embellish our time is to simply cherish it — to be proactively mindful and conscious of what we’re doing at any moment. This is one of the keys to meditation, and in reality, it can be done anytime.

Imagine each day you’ve lived that you can’t even remember because you allowed yourself to mindlessly follow the same routine. Monotony is what accelerates our awareness of time. Uniformity is the enemy of our longevity.

Imagine instead, if you asked yourself the following question every five minutes throughout the day: “Am I happy with how I’m using my time right now?”

It’s effortlessly easy to become absorbed in the unimportant, or to become caught up in whatever is in front of you. It takes far more energy to be acquainted with each passing breath, each beating of the heart.

There might be an impossibility in capturing the entire day, each day. Not every fleeting moment of our lives needs to have some sort of grand meaning behind it. Rather, try to do just one thing each day to make it memorable, and take a few moments to just not do anything except appreciate the time you have. Use the hours, don’t count them.

21: Structure → Chaos

Evolution of Atomic Models Source

Musings on privacy, disruption and mindfulness.

Note: This is my second Year-in-Review, check the link down below for the first.

https://medium.com/@brennanbrown/becoming-an-adult-10fd7135ce3c

This post was meant to come out on my birthday, but that was over two weeks ago now. I wasn’t writing on a schedule. I haven’t been writing much at all on Medium, in spite of how much I’ve been thinking about writing lately. Which is fitting, because that’s largely what I’m going to be ideating about.

Last year, when I wrote my yearly review, I focused mostly on the past. It made sense since I essentially had twenty years of material to cover. This year is different, though. I only have to really think about what’s happened in the past twelve months. There’s still plenty to talk about, though.

I’ve decided to tackle a few themes — and subsequently, their opposites — which have been resonating with me the most.

1. Privacy → Publicity

In the past year, I’ve become a lot more mindful about my privacy, mainly online. Since I began using the internet at a young age, I had been rather liberal with the amount of information that I put out. I idealistically didn’t see an issue with it — why not display things I’ve done or created beside my real identity? Being open is considered an especially good idea for potential employers to find you, even.

I’ve come to the realization of the bigger picture, though. Services like Facebook and Google are so ubiquitous today that many users do not have any realization of the rights they’re giving away when using any ‘free’ part of the internet. I could get into the weeds about this, but that’s how I feel.[1] Every person deserves the right to privacy.

Which leads me to this post itself. Where is the line when discussing your personal life between oversharing and providing proper context? It has become so easy to delve into and get entangled into the personal lives of most modern content creators. I’ve decided to take a more mindful and cautious approach, shutting down most of my social media channels as well as my publication Wander Notebook, I don’t want to find myself getting too caught up in vanity. (I’ll be writing a post soon about specific privacy tools to help you feel less exposed online.)

At the same time, being in the public eye creates accountability for yourself. It requires you to be responsible and consistent with what you produce. To create something that is powerful enough to break through the chaotic white noise of social media is another task of its own. That requires a lot of work.

Useful Tools:
TrackMeNot — a lightweight browser extension that helps protect web searchers from surveillance and data-profiling by search engines.
AdNauseam — a free browser extension designed to obfuscate browsing data and protect users from tracking by advertising networks.

2. Stagnation → Disruption

The more comfortable your position in life is, the less inclined you’d be to take risks. Why work any harder than the status quo if you’re happy?

This feeling of contentedness is, however, the enemy of progression. When you allow yourself to get comfortable, you stop hungering for more. You subside into the routine that has been working, and if you aren’t careful, you can end up here the rest of your life.

When you’re put into a dire, desperate position in life — not out of choice — that’s when you truly work your best. That’s when you hustle your hardest — because that’s the only option.

Developing the discipline to work as though life is on the line is far easier said than done. It requires the disheartening feeling of letting go of what you’ve plateaued. Brilliant ideas and work come from disruption of yourself and your life. Light a fire under your ass. Activity begets activity, inactivity begets inactivity.

What exactly does disruption entail, though? Recklessness does not equate improvement. You can’t just throw away structure and hope for good things to come out of tackling life in a wayward direction. Randomness is ineffective. You still need routine and structure, it just needs to be redesigned, sometimes radically so.

3. Autopilot → Mindfulness

I’ve been doing research on neurology lately, specifically metacognition, or the act of thinking about thought — and learning how to learn. This is because I’ve been wanting to answer the rather difficult question of what causes some people to act lazily and others to work incredibly hard.

There is plenty of literature that tries to pinpoint what exactly a person can do to become more productive, but these are external factors. The fundamental root of the problem of laziness stems from the mind itself. If you do not focus on that, any and all change would be temporary. No matter how much something inspires you or motivates you, you’ll always find yourself declining back into the same original state. It’s no different from people that lose weight only to regain it.

Of course, there’s no simple solution to this: You must become your own personal lab rat and experiment. Be more aware and mindful of your actions and thoughts throughout the day. Try to figure out where you lose focus and ask yourself why. When you waste time and procrastinate, it’s so easy to shut down the cognizant voice of reason in an attempt to suppress the guilt of wasting time.

We try our best to choose the path of least resistance when we aren’t actively pushing ourselves otherwise. This is how we stagnate. The act of trying to hold ourselves responsible is itself a difficult task.

It takes a lot of work to rewire yourself to become a person that can choose to do the difficult thing effortlessly. It’s something that needs to be practised constantly, every day. You have to push yourself to enjoy disruption over routine, to push yourself to be mindful instead of mindless.

It’s far easier to waste time if you don’t have anything but a blank screen in front of you, as opposed to writing things out and having that in front of you instead. But to-do lists are often ineffective due to the fact they don’t touch on what actually matters.

Zen of Housekeeping

Kitchen Sink | Source

Life as a kitchen sink.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” — Xinxin Ming

Since last August, I’ve worked casually as a housekeeper. I’ve been assigned to clean in a variety of environments such as hospitals, large business offices, and college campuses. Most of my friends have taken jobs in retail, and while it’s easy to joke about how I’d rather clean than deal with people, the reality is that it’s been a humbling — and sometimes daunting — experience.

It’s not something I aimed for, it just sort of ended up happening — as life often does. However, being a teenaged boy meant that I didn’t really have any experience in this field, so a lot of my initial training was haphazardly on-site. There are times when I’ve found myself without knowing where supplies are and only having an hour to do three hours worth of work.

It can sometimes feel like a hopeless task, in the beginning, but the feeling of satisfaction when you’re finally finished makes it worth it, without fail. After half a year of I feel as though I’ve maybe learned something— and I’d like to share that.

Paradox of Work

Cleanliness, by definition, is next to impossible. Nothing you ever do will stay done. It is human to make a mess by mere existence. The input of our actions — our daily living — results in an output of waste.

Cycles, cycles, cycles. It is an endless repetition. But that’s what life truly is — you’ll have to wake up tomorrow just like you did today.

We create order for ourselves constantly, we have plans and we organize. Or we don’t, and find ourselves constrained and in a rudderless mess. If you dislike repetition, what you’re really saying is that you dislike life itself.

Benefits of Mindful Cleaning

Researchers found that people who washed dishes mindfully (they focused on smelling the soap, feeling the water temperature and touching the dishes) upped their feelings of inspiration by 25% and lowered their nervousness levels by 27%.

The group that didn’t wash the dishes mindfully did not gain any benefits from the task. “It appears that an everyday activity approached with intentionality and awareness may enhance the state of mindfulness,” the study authors conclude.

Spirituality of Chores

I’m not going to pretend that there’s actually some sort of meaning in our daily chores. The truth is that the expectation of meaning is what robs life of greater meaning.

The spirituality comes from you. When you pay attention to the meals you cook, the clothes you wash. Carefully paid attention is our way of expressing care and love. To complete the menial and mundane tasks in order to show that we care about our environment and our loved ones in this environment. Most importantly, to show that we care enough about ourselves to work on our surroundings

Cleaning and decluttering can — and should — be mindful practices. To practice living in the present moment. Each time you do a chore, imagine as though you’re doing this chore for the first time. Instead of looking at a sinkful of dirty dishes, look for the bubbles instead.


“If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, then I will be incapable of drinking the tea joyfully.” — Thich Nhat Hanh


Gratitude and Compassion

As I’ve written about before, our lives are an endless amount of tasks where we never find time to ourselves. Rarely do we actually and honestly focus on our task at hand. When we do find ourselves idle, we often daydream about an impossible future, dwell on the past, or make fruitless judgments about the world and people in it.

Even more seldom is when we take time out to practice our gratitude in life, a key to happiness. Each moment spent taking care of our surroundings can be a joyful wonder if one takes the time to be grateful about the task.

How lucky we are to even just have the things that we need to clean, how lucky we are to be able to find the time to ourselves. Pay attention to yourself, your body and mind and how they’re acting. There’s nothing more important than searching for things to be grateful for in the present.

Old-fashioned Pragmatism

There are times — sometimes the majority of it — where no amount of mediation or philosophical thinking can cause you to do what needs to be done. Sometimes, you just need grit your teeth and do it.

This applies to everything, even the things we think we enjoy doing. Writing, for instance, is a lofty and common dream. But the task of writing the first draft is so daunting that it’s elusive to most would-be writers.

We don’t want to write, but we should. If not for the act itself, then for the result. To quote Josh Spilker:

Do I have to do dishes every day? Technically, no. But things are easier when I do, no matter how much I don’t want to.

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