How Much Does it Cost When You Pay Attention?

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A guest post by Kent Thune of The Financial Philosopher

Pay attention!

After reading these two words, did you interpret the meaning in the same way as pay money?  Perhaps you should…

It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

We have evolved into a consumer society and this consumption does not stop with food and material goods – those items that we pay money to obtain – this consumption extends to information, which takes place much more frequently (at often a higher price) than that of food and material goods.

When we pay attention, there is a cost.

Have you ever stopped to think about what price you pay when you pay attention?  Are you aware of what and how much you are allowing into your mind?  If information were food, would your information diet be “healthy?”

Furthermore, what are the respective purposes of your various pursuits of information?

“Knowledge is power.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon

The conventional assumption with regard to these profound words from Sir Francis Bacon is that more knowledge equals more power.  With the incredible abundance and velocity of information today, one might further conclude that society at large is now more powerful than at any time in human history.

The reality, however, is that the information age brings with it quite the paradox:  Along with our exponential advances in information technology and knowledge capacity, our power has an equal potential to be diminished because of the human tendency to be distracted by more choices.

Hence, in the absence of a conscious awareness of what and how much information we consume, information rich translates into attention poor and useful knowledge yields to the distraction of useless knowledge, or what we may refer to as noise.

Knowledge certainly is powerful; but there is a difference between knowledge capacity and knowledge possession.

Think about that.

“.. in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else:  a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes.  What information consumes is rather obvious:  it consumes the attention of its recipients.  Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” ~ Herbert Simon

When you pay attention, how much does it cost?  Since you are a consumer of information, you should be aware of what it is that information consumes – your attention – and that your attention should be allocated in a similar fashion as your financial assets.

Should you not consider attention as an asset equally valuable, if not more so, than any financial asset that you own?  After all, a fragmented attention is a fragmented person; and a fragmented person’s success will be limited in every area of life – including personal finance.

In the interest of limiting your day’s distractions, please allow me to offer some tips on allocating your most valuable asset – your attention:

  • Create a “portfolio” of information sources

    Similar to a portfolio of investment assets, your attention allocation needs to be diverse!  I suggest a “core and satellite” structure:  The core is where the greatest portion of your attention is allocated.

    For example, assuming you want to strengthen your mind and keep your attention healthy, you may want to allocate the largest portion (the core) of attention to books and mind-strengthening activities, such as solving puzzles, playing games with eye/hand coordination, listening to soothing music, having an enjoyable conversation or just sitting there doing nothing!

    Allocate smaller percentages to information sources and activities (the satellites) that are more distracting, such as mainstream media.

  • Budget time and attention

    How much time do you spend checking emails and surfing the Internet?  Do you answer the phone every time it rings?  Are you easily distracted?  Given the chance, outside noise will have you stumbling from distraction to distraction throughout the entire day.  Set strategic time frames for certain tasks and don’t give in to distraction.  Have a policy or procedure that tells you what to do and stay on task!

  • Be aware of your actions

    How did you go from an intentional internet search for practical information to an unintentional reading of an update on the latest pop culture delicacy?  Did you consciously find the information source or did it find you?  Be the hunter – not the hunted.  By virtue of remaining conscious of your choices, you will reduce the frequency of unconscious choices and keep your attention intact.

  • Understand the motives of your information sources

    Protect your attention – just as you would your wallet – by understanding how the attention thieves operate.  Do your primary sources of information exist to provide useful information or do they exist to sell something?

    Mainstream media, for example, essentially exists to sell advertising with sensational headlines that steal your attention – they do not often intend to strengthen your mind or calm your soul.  Similarly, marketers use flashy colors, strategic positioning, suggestive images or even attractive smells to entice your purchase of whatever product or service they are pushing.

    Also, most (not all) bloggers use shortcuts and lists (exactly what your brain prefers) to get you to read their posts, with the ultimate motive of increasing readership – not necessarily to provide useful information.

  • Give yourself a break

    Find at least 15 minutes (or hopefully more) per day to do nothing – no noise, no TV, no email, no cell phone, no kids – just peace and quiet.  Also, there’s nothing wrong with reading the mindless blog or watching the reality TV show from time to time.  Just as a healthy budgeter or dieter deserves an occasional “splurge”, your brain could use the occasional mindless activity.

  • Trim the fat and turn down the noise

    Less is more.  Do you really need more than a dozen blogs in your reader?  Do you need cable or satellite TV?  How many newspapers and periodicals do you read?  What is the purpose and value in your life of each information source?

“Moderation, which consists in indifference about little things, and in a prudent and well-proportioned zeal about things of importance, can proceed from nothing but true knowledge, which has its foundation in self-acquaintance.” ~ Plato

Of course, there is an ideal balance to be found that will differ among individual personalities and various needs.  Success in almost any endeavor, including attention allocation, is most likely accomplished with the timeless virtues of simplicity, moderation and patience – all of which finds its respective foundation in self-acquaintance.

Without knowing yourself and without remaining conscious of your actions, you yield power to outside influences.

What are your thoughts?  How do you allocate your attention among the myriad choices of information sources that exist in our world today?

If you enjoyed this article, please visit Kent Thune’s blog The Financial Philosopher

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind WritetoDone.com, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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