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Attention: Our True Source of Wealth

Posted on 

July 6, 2022



Time is often cited as one of the most (if not the most) valuable currencies.

In his recent feature on the Tim Ferriss Show, Sam Harris disputes this.

Sam posits that attention, not time, is our most valuable form of wealth.

Time’s shortcoming: distraction.

Consider how much of our attention is spent on:

  • thinking about the daily tasks that need to get done
  • deciding what to eat
  • buying things (or thinking about buying things)
  • our exercise routine
  • our sleep
  • our social interactions
  • our dependents
  • an “important” thing coming up next week/month
  • social media
  • entertainment (i.e. Netflix, podcasts etc.)

From one thing to the next, there is always something competing for our precious attention.

The problem arises, though, when we attempt to juggle multiple tasks that each individually require our full attention.

Ever try having a live, in-person conversation while typing on your phone (or computer) at the same time? Most (if not all) of us have. Besides the rude factor, juggling these two tasks – or really, any two tasks – happens to be impossible.

Studies show that our brains are incapable of multitasking. Anytime that you believe you are successfully multitasking, you are really just switching your attention from one task to another.

Besides being mentally taxing, multitasking incurs a “switch cost” each time we hop from one task to another. Consequently, it almost always takes longer to complete two tasks simultaneously compared to monotasking.

Research indicates that this “switching cost” may cost as much as 40% of our productive time.

Living An Examined Life

Each time we do something – pleasant or not – it’s worth recognizing that while we’re doing it, it may be our last time.

For instance:

  • there will be a last time that your baby wakes up in the middle of the night crying.
  • there will be a last time that your child asks you to read a bedtime story.
  • there will be a last time that you go to the beach.
  • there will be a last time that you get to enjoy dinner, or a phone call, with a certain loved one.

Embracing our finitude – as morbid as it may seem – can add beauty to all areas of life, even the inconveniences.

Additionally, embracing the fleetingness of life can also help us prioritize how to direct our attention.

Prioritizing Your Attention

We largely become the things we pay attention to.

By cultivating mindfulness and finding peace in the present we’re better able to prioritize what we direct our attention towards.

Are our thought patterns so ingrained that we’re stuck on autopilot as forever victims to distraction?

Or, is it possible for us to ignore the things not worthy of our attention and focus solely on the things that make us better versions of ourselves?

Rising above being passive “victims” of life’s distractions begins with prioritizing presence: being here, now.

Final Thoughts

During the podcast, Sam Harris references the “ghost of mediocrity” that can sometimes loom over the present.

If we’re mindful, we can feel it hanging over us when a conversation is not going well, or when a workout is lacking motivation, or when you’re feeling uninspired/unproductive.

With mindful, focused attention, we can:

  • recognize these moments as they happen
  • cast aside the immediate past
  • and make all that’s ahead from the present moment forward better.

Life is comprised of fleeting moments, finite opportunities, and distractions.

Guard your focus and connect more deeply with what matters most.

Lastly, if you haven’t already tried, visit our previous blog about Living Your Eulogy Virtues. This can be another good exercise for living a more intentional, examined life.