Social media is eating away at my attention and my self-control. I’m sure of it.
As I bounce between facebook, twitter, and blog stats, I’m clear that my attention is increasingly fractured. It darts about, trolling for cool people and interesting data. Almost like a nervous tick.
In fact, just as I was writing the last sentence, I had an attention-lurch. You see, I got stuck about what to write next. In the ensuing pause, I experienced a strange “twitching” sensation. I opened a new Mozilla tab and checked my twitter messages. All before I was conscious of what I was doing. Do you experience this too?
On the one hand, Twitter has proven to be the best professional development I’ve ever experienced (after all it’s where I’m finding about all these articles that inspire blog entries). On the other hand, I’m out of control.
Why I Care About Self Control & Attention
The topic of self control and social media is relevant to me for at least two reasons.
(1) As a newly self-employed entrepreneur, I no longer have the structure of a 9-to-5 job to control my time. The great part of this is I actually have time to pursue my passions. The hard part is I have so many passions, that my attention is increasingly scattered.
(2) I coach teenagers, many of whom are diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. Parents are constantly asking me to help their kids control their IM/textmessage/facebook habits.I’d love to, I tell the parents, as soon as I figure out how to control my own social media habits!
Right on cue, two relevant articles have flitted into my universe: one about attention and meditation (I’ll talk about that one today) and the other about self control and outsmarting desire (I’ll blog about that on Thursday).
Meditation and Attention
The first one came as a tweet from my dear friend Meri Walker:
Good idea to put meditation in the same sock drawer of mind as you put exercise: http://ow.ly/6DA6
Huh! As a lapsed meditator, this tweet stood out. I clicked on the link, and read about a study about the brains of Buddhist monks engaged in different forms of meditation. Turns out that people who meditate really do have significant control over their attention compared to those who do not meditate.
However, it matters what KIND of meditation you do. Evidently compassionate meditation (focusing on the suffering in the world) was not as successful as “one-point” meditation (focusing on one part of their experience; the breath, for example). At least in regards to helping the monks perform better on attentional tasks after they meditated.
This makes total sense! To have more control over how we place (and sustain) our attention, perhaps we ought to practice placing (and sustaining) a single-pointed focus. Meditation is not the only way to do this. But it’s sure a straightforward approach.
And you can meditate almost anywhere. Inspired by the article, I practiced that evening while taking BART to my Bollywood dance class in San Francisco. Eyes closed while the train rattled through tunnels, I tried hard to keep my attention on my breath, even though it was being pulled every few seconds by interesting sounds around me.
What Do You Think?
I don’t want to stop using social media, that’s for sure. And I don’t think my students should stop either. But I AM interested in how we can find balance. So I’m left pondering: So reading this study leaves me pondering:
- Will I experience better control over my beloved social media habits if I meditate regularly?
- To what extent would my students with ADD and ADHD benefit from learning simple meditation practices?
- What other tricks do ya’ll have for stabilizing attention amidst the social media frenzy?
I’d love to hear from you…especially about that last question!