“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
– Carl Jung
I’m still not sure exactly when I first realized I had a problem.
I began to notice that I couldn’t focus the way I used to. I felt on edge often and I wasn’t having much fun at all, constantly putting off “me” time and time with friends and family to keep up with commitments. I was almost always either online or on my phone, needlessly consuming content with no real bearing on either my personal or work lives.
Diving deep into topics for my research had become increasingly difficult, and I couldn’t sit still and read a book for more than 10 or 15 minutes, whereas losing myself in a book used to be a great joy. I kept forgetting about important events coming up, and found myself making lots of careless little mistakes. I would also catch myself staring at a screen or talking at people when I was in meetings or out with friends more than listening.
I had everything in check . . . or, so I thought. I was still getting things done. I was cranking through to-do lists. I was producing. I was studying and learning. I couldn’t see yet that everything took much longer than it should or that the output was only a small reflection of what was possible. I didn’t see that other important missions and relationships were languishing.
As I became more and more distracted, I had to work hard to catch myself in the acts of swerving away from what I was doing or trying to accomplish, and then deliberately stop and force myself to re-center. The same was true for conversations or studying or reading. It took a great level of awareness, practice, and discipline to notice my distraction and concentrate.
Yet I only began to take a serious look at what was happening when I sat down to write the proposal for what was initially going to be my next book. One year later, I shelved the project. Though I’m still devastated about it, I learned something about myself in the process that led me to write this other book, to this moment with you.
After I closed the chapter on my previous book, I couldn’t wait to imagine new possibilities, to pursue another dimension of creativity…to learn, experiment, and push the boundaries of what books could be and how we interact with them. The romance of my last creative affair ensnared me and unlocked a desire for not only another similar liaison, but also for something deeper and even more impassioned. It took just over two years to officially embrace the fact that the time had come to create something new.
I not only took longer between projects, but when I finally sat down to explore the depths of my next idea, I struggled. I froze. Something was different.
Ideation was limited and quite honestly, average. I thought “Maybe it’s just cobwebs.” That’s partially true. I noticed more problems, however. I couldn’t dive as deep as I used to. My ability to imagine and think critically was fractured and fragmented. When I finally, FINALLY reached creative depths, I couldn’t stay there for long without coming up for distractions that would, for some strange reason, serve as oxygen.
Rather than stepping back to reflect and analyze, I tried harder. I became anxious about everything, even the simplest of projects, which triggered procrastination and avoidance. Over time, my penchant for procrastination became pronounced. It was just a given and instead of understanding the cause, I learned the phases of working around and through it. But ultimately, my activity shifted to bursts instead of solid streams. My to-do list was only focused on what was absolutely due, while everything else languished, which, I learned, causes an entirely different level of anxiety. The more items reside on the list, the more stress they cause by just sitting there. It didn’t matter. I had become a “fireman” putting out only burning fires and always planning to focus on, but really never getting to, other (less) critical tasks.
I berated and questioned myself. I was losing self-esteem. And as my confidence and creativity deflated, I started to realize that my happiness was also fading. I just couldn’t identify or admit it in the moment. I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what was happening or why.
Then one day I was struggling to complete an article titled “How to Focus While Being Distracted,” and the irony hit me, hard. I was totally distracted, being drawn to notification after notification from Snapchat, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter. I’d tell myself not to reach for my phone, but there I’d be checking out a picture of that funny sandwich board outside of one of my friends favorite cafés that read, “Next time you’re afraid to share ideas, remember someone once said in a meeting, ‘Let’s make a film with a tornado full of sharks.’” Ha, ha, ha!!
After a year of emotionally and intellectually treading water, I pressed pause. Not only was I afraid that I was losing my creative spark, I feared that I was losing touch with my ability to feel happiness. I realized that I was constantly postponing pursuit of my most significant dreams and aspirations, and I felt that I was actually losing the idea of who I really am, and want to be. All of my distraction was preventing me from living as I truly found meaningful.
When I shared this story with loved ones, so many of them shared tales of similar experiences. That’s when I realized that I needed to look for answers, for myself, for them, and for you too.
Ask yourself, when did:
We get so busy?
Being glued to our devices get normalized?
It get so difficult to focus or stay focused?
We decide constant multitasking was in our best interests?
Consuming everyone else’s life become more important than actually living our lives?
We start to feel all of this nonstop anxiety?
When did it get so hard to breathe?
We started consuming more than we were creating. We traded expression and imagination for scrolls and swipes. We were intoxicated by the blurring of life between physical and digital.
Every day we do our best to navigate life and keep up with our personal and professional responsibilities, but at the end of each day, we’re still fighting to complete our self-imposed to- do lists, both at work and at home, a hamster-wheel process that detracts from our longer-term goals and dreams.1
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