Attention Span

Everything is faster today.

I am one of those people that has a hard time with attention span. I am easily distracted. It’s hard to sit still for more than a few minutes.

I also have a hard time in disordered situations — too much stimulus drives me crazy. Loud music, things out of order, clutter, chaos of any sort makes it nearly impossible for me to concentrate.

All of these little factors have manifested as very real problems in life. For nearly a decade after college, I barely read books at all — I just couldn’t get through a chapter before putting it down, getting distracted by something shiny, and never picking it up again. For the first ten or twelve years of my adult life, I suffered from acute insomnia, laying in bed for hours before my mind exhausted itself to sleep. I started projects and lost interest. I sorted all my books by the author’s last name, divided into sub-genre (okay, I still do that). I hung up the clothing in my closet divided by season and shirt pattern (maybe still do that too). I developed countless little compulsions that would pop up from nowhere.

By all accounts — and from what more than a few people have told me directly — there is something diagnosable in all that mess.

I would be tempted to believe it, if I hadn’t learned to cure the problems directly.

The magical turning point — where I finally knew something could be done — was insomnia. I read something about how snipers in Vietnam could train themselves to fall asleep anytime, anywhere. The article described a step-by-step process in which you relaxed your body and emptied your mind, and after a few weeks of training you could sleep upon command.

The hard part was not the process. The hard part was consistently trying it, for weeks, without success at first.

It turns out it is very difficult, for the first time, to truly empty your mind, focus on nothing, and drift to sleep. It takes a significant amount of self-control and determination.

Within a week, it happened, and I fell asleep within five minutes.

That was probably seven or eight years ago, and I have fallen asleep within a few minutes probably 364 out of 365 days out of the year ever since then.

When I realized I could do this — and that it was entirely within my control — I began to get better at the other things.

I made myself start reading again: old school paper-paged books. I had to start with light fiction, and it felt a little weird getting into it at first. I couldn’t get immersed. I had to get up and wander around during the first few books.

That was three or four years ago, and I have probably read a book a week ever since then. Big, fat, thousand-page honkers. Fiction. Non-fiction. Classics. Moderns.

And that development of patience, focus, and mental clarity has ended up positively affecting everything else in life, as well. I have abandoned fewer projects. My time horizon for goals has gone from next year to next decade. I work decidedly more effectively. I make better use of my free time. I spend less time on my phone.

All of that to say: when something is diagnosable, there’s a big chance that someone will give you a prescription for a band-aid pill.

That band-aid pill may remove the symptoms, but it doesn’t fix the cause.

It is not easy. I am still prone to distractedness and drifting attention.

But if this is something you suffer from: consider fixing the fixable problem, which is mental weakness.

You can strengthen your resolve.

1 thought on “Attention Span”

  1. Man thats so crazy. Im reading this and its like I wrote it. Few months ago I realized that we put insane barriers on ourselves in what we are capable of and think there is no treatment, go to the doctor – here are some pills.

    I had a similar experience and it wasnt with insomnia but I randomly started running and by 6 months i finished a half marathon under 2 hours. I hate running – like a lot – but the mental toughness i gained in those months is insane. if u talked to me a year ago and asked if I’d be able to run a half marathon, id laugh in your face, but now i know that if I actually try to do anything consistently, success is inevitable

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