In modern Western society, we often find ourselves in a permanent state of unfulfilled desire. We are offered continuous distractions and stimulations that mimic reality, such as mass leisure, mass culture, and mass media.
Constant intrusions and interruptions – now the norm in our culture – drive up stress, deplete mental and emotional reserves and shrink our attention spans.
Instead of directing our energy towards personal growth and achieving complex goals, we instead focus on the activities above, which absorb mental energy without providing anything substantive in return. This behavior can leave you feeling even more depleted and disheartened.
Bottom-up attention, in which something or someone other than you dictates what you focus on, is part of our brain’s survival apparatus. It alerts us to potential danger in our surroundings; for example, when you hear a siren or a car backfire.
Bottom-up attention kept our ancestors alive. It instantly shifts our focus to a potential threat. This issue is when our attention is continuously hijacked by these types of alerts (such as the “ding” on your phone when you receive a message).
Can you relate to this? And are you wondering what the alternative could be?
“Top-down” attention is when you set the terms of engagement. In this scenario, you are in control of where you direct your attention, and you’re able to focus on a specific, chosen set of stimuli. This is also known as concentration!
The opposite of distraction is the ability to align your thoughts, intentions, and feelings towards the same goal. This produces an experience of harmony and flow. To do this, though, you must be able to concentrate and “order your consciousness”.
Each one of us has the power to decide whether mental order will come from the outside (bottom-up, with little control) or the inside (top-down, making conscious choices based on personal skill and knowledge).
A complex self is one that succeeds in the type of mental resilience that enables one to switch between bottom-up to top-down attention. This can be achieved with training.
We all have the ability, and in my opinion the responsibility, to create ourselves. We are a direct result of how we invest our mental energy. Understanding how to create ourselves is our most important skill!
That’s why it’s vital to ask yourself, “How distracted am I?” With the ever-growing onslaught of disturbances, both digital and physical, it’s more important than ever to determine the answer to that question.
To assess your current level of distraction, download the infographic here!
*If you enjoyed this article, you might like our upcoming Imagination Retreat, where you’ll take a deep dive into your own creativity and imagination and enjoy just the right combination of activity, personal exploration, pampering, and beach time – all in an idyllic, naturally gorgeous oceanside setting.
Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT
Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science. Take the 7 Day Creative Brain Challenge to reclaim and recharge your creativity – in 10 minutes a day or less!