Deep in the shrouded mountains of Henan province, China, the monks of the Shaolin Temple have perfected their martial arts over centuries. Little did they know that they would be helping me deal with the constant distraction of the modern digital age. Until now.
“Kick, kick, kick” – the fearsome man was screaming at us. We were already exhausted after an hour of hard training and now we were kicking heavy bags. It was a dark, freezing night; but, there he was in a t-shirt, shorts and no socks – impervious to the cold. I would like to introduce you to Shifu Yan Lei of the Shaolin Temple. He taught me to fight and to pay attention to every kick.
“Don’t think about anything else – focus on every kick.”
As I sit here, years later, I can’t help but think that type of mindfulness is needed as much in front of a screen as in a fight.
Click, click, click
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve struggled with this. When in front of a screen I’ve found myself being distracted easily. One task is forgotten as another catches my attention. The web offers so much distraction, it is hard to stayed focused. Especially when you’re tired.
But the words of Shifu Yan Lei have been echoing in my mind: try to focus on every click / kick.
Here is what I’ve learnt:
Then, a thought would come into my head about something and immediately I’d look it up online. That was fine. But, that immediate gratification led to a habit that went unnoticed for a while. Then that habit started to dominate my attention, fragmenting it. After a while my head started to hurt.
Now, when a similar thought about clicking on something comes into my mind I pause. That split second gives me a choice. To click or not. At that point, I make a choice: how best should I spend my time and attention?
I write down the thought. After a while, I have a little list of things I want to click.
Then, when I want to, I look up all those interesting things. I look forward to it. I get more enjoyment from this mindful clicking than I did from the habitual distraction. I found this simple approach has taken a lot of strain off my mind. I find I am more content and able to concentrate for long periods of time. Even when I’m tired.
It is hard, but pausing before clicking gives you a choice. It gives you a chance to decide how to spend your time and attention.
And it is much less exhausting than kicking heavy bags under the watchful eye of Shifu Yan Lei.