From The Desk of Maverick Brenton.
Subject: The Importance of Paying Attention
Last week, after a long morning of writing – I threw my journal in my bag, along with a pen and a book.
Then I set out for my favourite spot, by a creek out in the woods, but not before I grabbed a coffee from town.
I got in my truck, plugged in my phone, put on some music, then made my way to the coffee shop.
It was a beautiful day, and a recent storm left the air fresh and the ground slightly wet – but I wasn’t paying much attention to the world around me, as I drove into town.
To be honest, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything.
I was just driving along, listening to music and lost in my thoughts.
The coffee shop is only a short drive from my house, and so I was parking outside it within ten minutes.
I pulled up. And turned the car off.
Then dug around in my ashtray for some spare change.
After a moment I had $5.50 in my hand. All coins. Two 2 dollar coins. One 1 dollar coin. And a 50 cent piece.
So, with my change, and my phone, I jumped out, locked the truck and headed into the coffee shop to buy my coffee.
There were a few people in there, but I can’t recall what they looked like.
I don’t know whether they were male or female, and I don’t know anything else about them.
I just remember, vaguely – faces, voices and a mixture of colourful clothing.
The fella behind the counter, I remember his face a little.
Friendly it was, and he had a beard, which was a light ginger colour.
He looked up, as soon as I entered, and he asked me what I wanted.
“Large cappuccino, no sugar, cheers mate.”
He nodded, touched a few buttons on the computer, then looked up and smiled.
“$4.50 thanks buddy.”
I dropped the coins into his hand, picked up a brochure sitting on the bench, and studied it – thinking about my writing, the gym, and other things.
Looking at that brochure, and completely fucking oblivious to what was happening around me – I failed to notice the fella behind the counter looking at me, as he dropped my money into the till and closed it, keeping my change.
In retrospect, I remember very clearly, him looking at me, digging through the change in the till, and watching to see if I was going to ask for my change.
But I had my head up my ass, looking at the brochure and lost in my thoughts, so he shut the till and began making my coffee.
For a moment I thought something was off, and I expected change.
I thought he said $4.50, and I thought I gave him $5.50, which I did.
It was vague though, and I had no idea.
So I put the brochure back, then sat down at the bench to wait for my coffee.
He was done within a minute.
I took it, half smiling, and looking at him as he looked at me – then I left and went back to my truck.
As I got in my truck, started the engine and sipped the hot coffee, I leaned back in my seat, and thought about what just happened.
I gave him $5.50, for a $4.50 coffee, and he kept the change intentionally, but I was clueless, with my head up my ass and daydreaming about bullshit.
I was not paying attention.
To be honest I was pissed off as I drove out to the creek.
And I was pissed off at myself, not the fella in the coffee shop.
Well, it reminded me of a lesson I was taught years ago, by two of my old mentors – one was a retired businessman, and the other was a successful investor.
That lesson was about the importance of paying attention.
To be completely honest with you, and myself, I am terrible at paying attention.
When I want to, I can, and I am very good at it.
My father was a master at it.
He noticed everything, and missed nothing – without a great deal of effort.
Myself on the other hand, am dreadful at it.
I daydream a lot.
I live inside my imagination.
And most of the time – I am stuck in my head, subject to my thoughts.
This is good, and this is bad, for dreaming about the future has a time and a place.
Paying attention for me is a conscious effort, it’s not something I do naturally, and it’s not something I can do without thinking about it.
Now let’s talk about attention, both mine, and yours.
In the world today, our attention is a scarce and valuable resource.
Companies compete for it and your smartphone steals most of it.
In day to day life, your own mind, like my own – sucks you into it’s games and prevents you from being fully present in your life.
It has you worrying about everything, except for what is right in front of your face.
And it has you missing out – on the little things that make life good.
Paying attention isn’t just about making sure you don’t get ripped off in the coffee shop.
There’s a lot more to it.
Paying attention is about opening your eyes, and seeing the truth about this world that you exist within.
It’s about seeing the invisible powers that govern both yourself, and I.
It’s about deciphering the ways of the universe.
And above all, it’s about living deeply.
Most of us spend far too much time stuck in our heads, thinking about bullshit, instead of becoming immersed in the world around us.
We are busy jerking off about the future, instead of appreciating the present.
We have our eyes glued to our phones, and our heads up our asses, instead of looking around and really noticing what’s going on.
We’re not paying attention, and we’re not thinking – and this is no good.
There’s something I have noticed among older men and women.
What is it?
They pay attention a lot more than younger people do.
Maybe it’s got something to do with the rise of smartphones, social media, and all the other bullshit that steals our attention and literally destroys our ability to focus.
A long time ago I read a book called the shallows, by Nicholas Carr, and the book talked about the effect the internet has on our ability to focus.
At first I thought nothing of what he spoke about, but then I dug deeper into the book, and his arguments made sense, so I decided to take a break from all forms of electronic entertainment for a month.
Guess what happened?
I lost my shit at first and I couldn’t concentrate on anything.
I was so used to having constant hits of dopamine that I went through withdrawals.
And my attention span had diminished to the level of a goldfish.
This lasted about a week.
Then I relearned how to entertain myself without using the internet, or any other form of digital entertainment.
I read books, wrote in my journal, and pumped iron – a lot.
In that month, without the usual distractions and mind-numbing bullshit that I was used to – I had more ideas, more insights and more periods of deep thinking than I’d had in years.
Personally, I think it is information overload, combined with digital media and entertainment, that destroys our attention span.
People didn’t have this problem in the 1900’s.
Now, the average human attention span has now been reduced to that of a goldfish.
On average, we’re now competing with goldfish, when it comes to our ability to direct our attention on a single thing.
Before I quit social media, and massively reduced the amount of time I spent watching movies and videos on youtube – I felt like an idiot, because I just could not concentrate for long periods of time.
Now, despite my daydreaming, I can sit down and work for hours without distraction.
And I can do that because I eliminate all possible distractions.
The phone goes off. The computer goes into airplane mode. The earphones go in.
And it’s just me, alone with my words.
If I didn’t turn off my phone, and if I left my computer connected to the internet – I would get absolutely nothing done
I would get distracted. I would check my phone. I would use the internet, and my attention span would be reduced to short bursts – instead of long, focused and deep intervals of work.
And those deep intervals of work, where my mind is completely absorbed in the work before me – that work is the work responsible for the best work I have done.
As I already mentioned above, it’s hard to live deep and be present when your mind is racing with one million different thoughts, plugged into a smartphone, and thinking about pointless shit that does not truly matter.
Just recently, I was laying on a blanket in a beautiful park.
There were ducks all around me. The sun was out. Kids were playing, laughing and yelling.
There I was, gazing up into the tree’s above me, thinking about stupid shit.
Instead of fixing my attention on the beauty of the world around me, I was thinking about what I had to do that afternoon, the next day, and next week.
Then a quote popped into my mind:
“Our life is frittered away in detail.”
It’s from a book I recently read, and wrote an article about – Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.
After reflecting on how I have been living, I know exactly what he is talking about.
Life just passes us by, whilst we are consumed in the details of our day to day lives.
Instead of being awake fully, and noticing the beauty of each moment, our minds become fixed on things that often don’t matter.
In that fixation – the wonderful moments, just pass us by.
And when we reach the end of our time, the life before us is compacted into nothing more than a blur of memories, good and bad.
Then it’s over.
I thought about the above a lot, when I remembered the quote.
And I reflected on all the years that have already passed me by.
They appear now, to be nothing more than a blur.
It’s like looking out your windscreen as you drive through a city, and the rain is pouring down.
Just a series of lights, sounds and feelings that pass as quickly as they come.
That’s why you gotta pay attention.
So people don’t rip you off in the coffee shop, and so your life doesn’t slip through your fingers without you having lived it fully.
When you really begin to pay attention, and focus – not only will your life grow deeper and richer, but you will begin to notice things that you did not notice before.
You will be more aware of the people around you, and what they’re doing.
You will be one step ahead, in your daily life.
And your self-awareness will improve, too.
That’s a big one.
If you’re going to work on paying attention to anything, pay attention to how you feel and learn to understand the messages you get from your gut instinct.
I hope you gained something of value from this post, and that you pay attention when you’re buying coffee from a coffee shop next.
I certainly will be.
Until Next Time.