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What Captures My Attention Versus the Decision To Train My Focus

: Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

Walking home from day camp with my son, I was on a mission. I wanted to hurry home and get dinner started. But when we took the shortcut through the grassy area near the dead-end street, my son stopped cold. "Mom, look!" He pointed to a small blue butterfly, noticing the dots under its folded wings. It sat on a clover flower and looked to be rubbing its wings together. I could have nudged him toward home and reminded him of dinner, but instead we lingered and looked.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what captures my attention. I blame the book I'm reading. It's called "How to Do Nothing" by Jenny Odell. Don't let the title fool you. It's not actually about doing nothing, but about having better command of how you spend your time.

In a world where it seems that everything is offered in the spirit of persuasion or as a sales pitch, we have to be more intentional than ever.

There are a lot of smart individuals working diligently for corporations to manipulate our attention. Social media, grocery store aisles, television and every smartphone notification we allow -- all have the intention of enticing us to consume a product, service or entertainment.

One could argue that the headline on this column is trying to do that very same thing. It's true that headlines hope to intrigue you enough to want to click and read. After all, I have something to share, and I do hope it interests you. I even hope that Google puts it at the top of its search list.

I want to be savvy and understand how we are being used by corporate entities. I don't want to just be tugged and pulled in different directions to suit someone else's strategic marketing. However, in some ways I also welcome an algorithm that understands my interests. It's complicated.

For example, I like to shop online. The ease of it is nice. I have chronic illness and only so much energy. I don't want to spend my day perusing a shopping mall. Teenage me would be horrified, but there it is.

 

At the same time, I don't want to lose hours like a squirrel chasing nuts, flitting from one notification to the next while I click the apps and scroll on my phone. I also don't want to turn my back on my husband and son standing in the same room because my device has captured all of my attention. My family deserves my time without smartphone distractions. My son's confidence and development depends on knowing that he's more important than whatever notification is prompting me to check it.

In order to do this, we have to recognize and understand how we are being manipulated and make the conscious effort to regain command of our own attention.

Odell points out in her book that distractions keep us from doing the things we really want to do, and in the long run, they rob us of the lives we want to live.

She also warns us not to be surprised when it's hard to retrain your attention to not jump from one shiny thing to the next; it takes practice. I really want to start practicing. I'd like to rediscover the hours I spent as a child lying in the grass with my journal or a book. I want to find that girl again. So yes, when my son notices a butterfly on a walk because he was present enough to notice, I want to honor that and follow his lead. I will join him and stop to marvel in the moment right here, right now.

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Check out Bonnie's weekly YouTube videos at https://www.youtube.com/bonniejeanfeldkamp. To find out more about Bonnie Jean Feldkamp and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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