Attention Is a Finite Resource and We’re Going Bankrupt

13 Jul, 2018

Last Monday my washing machine broke. Three days later, the dishwasher. The misses text me while I was at work. “The washing machine broke down; I smell rubber”. I respond with “Fuck! Not now!”, like there ever is a convenient time for shit to break down. Slightly annoyed, I get back to work, but I can’t find my focus. My mind is fragmented. One part at work, the other already fixing both machines.

I drive home in a fashion that’s a bit more aggressive than usual so that I can get home 20 seconds earlier. My daughter is greeting me like she always does. In a way that embodies what unconditional love and enthusiasm would look like if it were a mini-human.

I respond in a way that no dad should ever do, with half-awareness. I say a quick ‘hi babe’, run for my tools, and find my way upstairs. Feeling slightly guilty, I run up the stairs, but my ego says it’s ok. “There’s stuff to be fixed, and this can only be done by you, so your family should be happy you are so hands-on”.

Manly as I am, I spot the problem within minutes and know it’s an easy fix. I walk downstairs, proud, and report. While they think it’s family time now, I sneak my way behind the laptop to order the item I need for the fix real quick. Finding the right item takes three hours of my precious time and laser focus. The handyman scores that night, the family man loses.

Life happens

The last few months were hectic. Sure, you can relate. I started a new job which takes around 55 hours a week, including commute, of my time. After work, I rush home to work in the garden. We have a newly built home, and the garden looks like farmers’ land. I have big plans to make it our little palace, so there’s work to be done.

While the days of busyness pass, my perfectly crafted routine fades. No more Wim Hof breaths in the morning, no more cold showers, no more meditation, training and waking up at the crack of dawn, and definitely no focus. I go to sleep too late and wake up as late as possible to get back to work. I replaced eggs and spinach as breakfast with cereal and sugar. My health suffers, and deep down, I know it is. “But that’s ok,” I say. It’s an investment worth making, and I figured it out, right?

Life keeps happening

Every day my mood gets just a bit worse, and fatigue is slowly creeping up on me. Missing out on my precious Me time is taking its toll. On rare occasions I find myself on the couch at 11 PM while the family is sleeping, I stay there watching crap on TV till 3 AM to make up for lost Me time. I become snappy to my loved ones, don’t call my mom as often as usual, and I’m not the daddy for what I work so hard to be. The only ‘quality’ time she gets is that she can help me in the garden. Only to be sent off five minutes later because it’s dangerous and she’s in my way. But that’s ok because it’s an investment worth making, right?

Fast forward a couple of months, and the garden is done, but I’m still not as available as I planned to be, still no focus. Instead of things becoming less, they are becoming more. Fixing the garden was necessary, and the payoff is enormous. Seeing my daughter play in the garden and watching the flowers grow is priceless. It’s nice to see a positive impact, but I’m still not available. My mind is somewhere else, and so is my attention. But that’s ok; apparently, there are more things to do to make our lives better, right?

I’m a slave, and the dishwasher is my master

My focus is on the dishwasher and with the washing machine. It’s with my computer that needs to be updated, and it’s with my tools that need to be cleaned. Suddenly my awareness is with all kinds of meaningless things that don’t matter at all. It’s in a world of things and stuff and a zillion mini ‘problems’ to fix. Even if I’m not physically fixing them, my mind is thinking of ways to fix them.

I’m a practical man and all these things that worry me now are bought to make our lives more relaxed and enjoyable. The pursuit of happiness if you will. But, it seems as if I’ve reached an impasse. While the fabulous dishwasher is saving me time, it also costs me.

In our old home, the dishes were never a problem. We simply didn’t have the space for a dishwasher and did it all by hand. Sure, it was a daily task, but we owned that shit and knew if we didn’t do it the night before, it would be there the next morning, no worries. Some water, a sponge and some dish soap and we were ready to rock and roll. 

But, as these things go with growing up, we now have a bigger house and a dishwasher. After all, successful grown-ups don’t wash the dishes by hand. But just a couple weeks in and the dishwasher isn’t all that cracked up to be. There’s always just a little fear that the water supply will crack, and the water will ruin the floor.  My wife turns the dishwasher off mid-program when she goes to sleep. Some dishwasher somewhere a million miles from here caught fire and burned a small village down, and we don’t want any of that.

Irrational anxiety

The next day I wake up just a bit too late in the morning to go to work. Before I leave the door, I need my caffeine fix and open the dishwasher. There it is, my favorite coffee mug still dirty and stinky. So, now I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if my favorite cup will be clean in the morning, or if I have to wash it by hand. This drives me nuts. I can think about it all night, but I won’t know the answer until the next day.

Add all these mini fears, and collectively, we spend a shit load of time worrying about some minutia thing as the dishes. For a guy that never worries, this is probably as low you can sink. I never lay awake over anything, and now this silly device has me cornered.

Am I cruising along in the rat race of wanting more, bigger, and better? Is this what my life is turning into? Am I really worrying about the fucking dishes in the middle of the night? Is this the inevitable road to becoming a boring adult?

To come full circle, I spent last Saturday, the Saturday scheduled for being an awesome cool daddy, fixing the dishwasher. There was rage, water on the floor, clumsy lifting, and laser focus.  There were a lot of things, but no Me time and no family time.

Still, the fucker doesn’t work. One part of me wanted to dive deeper, but my soul interrupted. While working on the dishwasher, two stories were going on in my mind:
1. If I fix this, everything is going to be better.
2. It all went to shit when the yogi bought a second loincloth.

The yogi and his loincloth

While working on the dishwasher, I couldn’t stop thinking about a short story that I like a lot. It’s a short story about simplicity.

In a nutshell: There’s this poor yogi who owns nothing more than a loincloth and a begging bowl. He spends his days meditating in the sun, and while he’s poor, he’s a happy and focused man. One day he decides to get a second loincloth so he can be more efficient. He usually has to wait for the loincloth to dry after washing, but with two of them, he can keep meditating.

He gets the second loincloth only to find out that if he wants to be efficient, he needs someone to wash the loincloth and so he finds a misses. Problem solved, but the misses is feeling lonely and wants a cat. A cat is cool but not as cool as a kid, and so nine months later, a toddler is running around. To feed the Brady Bunch, they get a cow for the milk and all.

Long story short. The yogi now is too busy with maintaining his new life and has no more time to meditate. Basically, his life turned into a shit show because he wanted a second loincloth.

Atlas Shrugged

Back to the dishwasher. While I was pondering my next move to fix the dishwasher, the yogi calmly whispered in my ear: “Do you really need the dishwasher? You already have the cat, wife, and child.”

And then it hit me. “Fuck the dishwasher!” And at that moment, fairy dust sprinkled down, and rainbows sprouted from the ground. It was amazing. There were unicorns, and like a superhero, I broke the shackles that kept me down. I was a free man again. It felt like I lifted a heavy burden from my shoulder. You know, like Atlas carrying the world. Only this time, it was a dishwasher. Maybe not as heavy as the world, but I’m no Atlas, and over time, it really hurts.

It felt like a moment of detox. That glorifying day in your detox where all is light and crystal clear. And this made me think: What else is burdening me and do I really need it? Isn’t all this stuff around me toxic for my life and just killing my focus?

Whenever I’m in the car in front of a traffic light, there’s always a little fear it can break down. If I leave my sunglasses in the car, there is the fear of it being stolen. When I buy a new gadget, there is that constant fear for that first scratch. Shit, if you keep accumulating all these cool things, you won’t be able to leave the house anymore because you need to guard it 24/7.

Next, to pay in cold hard cash for all these things, I pay for something way more precious. I pay with time (for maintenance) and fear of it breaking down.

Buying ideas

Everywhere we look, things are fighting for our attention. It’s like we are living in a non-stop Tell Sell commercial. Everything is fantastic, and we all need it. It’s simply impossible to focus. Marketing, in its essence, is creating a need. Up until the late 90’s the idea of having a mobile phone was nonsense. Who needs that crap? Just 20 short years later, it’s a zombie apocalypse.

You’ve lived your life without ever using that cool new thing, but the moment you see it, you want it, you crave it, you need it. Like a junkie desperately doing whatever he has to do to get that life saving hit. You get caught in a web of wants, needs, and things.

Getting these things isn’t even the problem. If you like shopping and can afford it, why the hell not? But, after the high of purchasing new fancy things fades, we are left with just the stuff. The stuff that served a purpose for a short time like a lottery ticket does. You don’t spend 10 dollars because you know you can win a million dollars. And you buy the ticket so you can imagine what it would be like to have a million dollars. You’re buying an idea.

And that’s the same with buying everything else. We buy an idea. And we buy the idea that the new Air Jordans will make us dunk from the free-throw line like MJ. We buy the Kardashian outfit they show off on the Gram because we think we will be just like them. And we buy a fancy car because we believe it makes us look cool, and we purchase household items because we like the idea of never doing the dishes again and chilling on the couch.

Messy lives

But this isn’t the case. In pursuit of becoming the next Kim K., women now have so many clothes in their closet; they can’t even find their favorite shirt. Getting dressed demands full focus nowadays. Man buy gadgets and things that will make their lives more comfortable, but they rarely do.

Do we really need all these things? When we see them, do they make us happy? When a woman looks in her closet that’s filled to the roof with clothes, is she happy? Or is she just annoyed she can’t find her favorite shirt in that mess?

Am I a happy man when the dishwasher is washing my dishes? No, not really. I’m a happy man fixing that thing on my free Saturday morning? Hell no. And this is the thing with accumulating more and more. It makes everything messy. Our lives get messy, the closet gets messy, our agendas get messy, and our minds do a lot of things, but focus isn’t one of them.

When you’re getting ready to blow out your last breath of air and travel to the afterlife, will you say, “I’m so happy I’ve had all these cool things”?

Focus on catching or throwing?

Last week I heard a story about how to learn to juggle. There was no deeper essence; it was actually about juggling balls. But, there was a metaphor in the story.

When learning to juggle, people focus on catching the ball, because letting it fall is failure. This has everything to do with society, which judges you on the ability to keep metaphorical balls in the air.

It turns out that if you want to be a good juggler, you have to focus on the throw. The catch doesn’t matter. If a juggler can throw great balls, he will be a great juggler. The thing about staying in the game is that a juggler will let every ball drop that will throw him off balance. The juggler is in balance, focused. The balls flow perfectly, and everything that disturbs this harmony gets dropped.

Cool story, but my guess is you’re not here to learn how to juggle. You want to focus on shit that matters. Here comes the metaphor: Think of all the tasks –  meetings, material things, obligations, dinner with your friends and all – as balls. You’re catching like crazy to keep all these balls in the air. There is no harmony; you’re off balance.

People keep throwing shit at you, and you keep adding balls yourself. If you’re focused on catching, you are in response mode. Life is happening to you, and you’re not enjoying the finer things in life.

Drop the unhappiness

Most people try to keep too many balls in the air, in hopes some will disappear, but they won’t. The number of balls only grows when you focus on catching. People throw anything at you cause they know you will catch. And so you become a freak show that juggles everything. The crowd gathers and watches you closely because they know that the moment you get just a tiny bit out of balance, all the balls will drop, and so do you. You burned out. You become a statistic in the ever-growing population of burned-out people.

However, if you are focused on throwing great balls, balls that make you happy, you will drop all the balls that don’t make you happy. You are manifesting and control your life. People will stop throwing balls at you because they know you won’t catch them. They will respect your ability to juggle just a few balls grandly and deep inside wish they could too.

Catching balls is responding; you are not taking ownership of your life. You’re saying “yes master” to everything that’s thrown at you.

Throwing just a few balls you love and saying “no” to every ball that’s thrown at you is taking full responsibility for your life and reclaiming your focus. It’s your life, and you are the main character. You are manifesting the greatest version of yourself.

Less is more

So while trying to create a better life, I’ve gotten the exact opposite. I was juggling dishwashers, meetings, stuff, things, family, my daughter. But, I’m not a good juggler. I can only catch so many balls. And so the balls that I threw back in the air weren’t that good. Amongst those balls where the things I’m passionate about, and they didn’t get the pitch-perfect throw they deserve. At best, I just kept them in the air in hopes of better times. I was on automatic pilot mode and didn’t even notice the balls dear to my heart passing me by.

But I’m the creator.

So the time has come to drop many balls. I’m a simple guy, and I’m fortunate enough to know what I’m passionate about. I like to write, I like to read, I love making music, I love taking care of my mind body and soul in various ways, and I love exploring life and doing cool shit with my daughter. While pursuing a better life, I didn’t do any of the things which I’m passionate about, which defeats the purpose of pursuing a better life.

“Hell yes!” Or “no”

This means a lot of stuff I don’t enjoy will have to go. This also means a lot of things that people think are normal are out the window. I don’t enjoy phone-calls, so I won’t answer them any more. If you are a friend or a family, you know where to find me. If you are a business and want my attention, send me an e-mail. Whether I’ll respond or not will depend if it fits with the life I want to lead.

I know from experience that if I focus on just a couple of the right balls, I can juggle like a pro. If you would see me, you’ll see I can juggle many more. Don’t be fooled; if you throw me a curveball, I’ll drop it like a bad habit. If it doesn’t make me say, “Hell yes!” It’s a “no”.

Photo credit: Emile Séguin