How to Start an Attention Diet?

My thoughts on the importance of attention diet in the 21st century and how to start one.

We are living in a century where we are bombarded with information. Thanks to the rise of social media, digital journalism and live media, we now have access to vast amounts of information than ever before. Distractions have become so common in this digital age and we have started to accept them as normal. We have reached a point where we have more ways to get distracted than to be focused. Attention Diet is a term coined by Mark Manson, the author of the popular book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

Distractions have become so pervasive in the digital age that we’ve come to accept them as normal. But we can escape their grip and free our minds.

Mark Manson

What is an Attention Diet?

An Attention Diet is to be followed in the 21st century, an era where we are bombarded with information. Attention diet focuses on the amount of media, content and socializing people are doing these days, eventually distracting themselves. The goal of an attention diet is to find highly nutritious sources of information and relationships to build our lives around them. The diet gives more importance to quality over quantity.

According to Manson, the Attention diet is all about prioritizing nutritious sources of information and relationships over junk ones. Nutritious information is reliable, long-form and deep engaging information, whereas junk information is unreliable, short, addictive and emotionally charged. Nutritious relationships are people or groups who make you feel better, that are positive and help you grow. Junk relationships are often people or groups having little mutual trust, consistently making you feel worse about yourself or the world.

Why does it Matter?

It all boils down to the question, why does it matter? Why should we follow an Attention Diet? Attention Diet is essential so that we can weed out all the unwanted crap in the information universe and focus on what is important ( I have written a piece on the importance of curated content in this context!). With the number of options we have, we are always distracted. Our attention span is very short and we cannot focus on anything for long. We are addicted to clickbaity titles and consume media more than ever before. Smartphones and Social media are often called cigarettes for millennial’s. According to Manson, you only grow in this world by your ability to correctly focus on less. In the same way, we tackled junk food and lifestyle diseases through nutritional diets in the 20th century, we need to improve our focuses through the attention diet.

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How to Start an Attention Diet?

The concept of the Attention Diet is similar to a nutritional diet where you cut down on unwanted food and eat more healthy to balance your macros and micros. In an Attention Diet, you mindfully limit the number of distractions you have, prioritize nutritious sources of information and relationships and eventually reduce your craving for junks sources of information and relationships.

Three steps to follow in an attention diet are:

  • Identify nutritious sources of information and relationships.
  • Weed out all junk sources of information and connections.
  • Cultivate the habit of deep focus and longer attention span.

From May 2021, I’ve been trying to adopt a lifestyle where I’m conscious about the information I’ve been consuming. I’ve been following the steps mentioned below in my attention diet. I do not claim that these would work for you, but it has definitely worked for me as I have better focus and more attention span within a short span of 3-4 months. This is a working article and I would upload more action items as soon as I discover them.

Reduce Social Media

I’ve been annoyed with the bullshit content present in social media channels like Instagram, Youtube and Facebook. In April I unfollowed everyone on Instagram and unsubscribed from every Youtube channel. I do not have any social media apps on my phone now. The only social media platforms I use are Twitter and Reddit, which I have better control over what I’m consuming.

Unfollow News and Media Outlets

I do not follow any news or media outlets anymore. I have removed all the news and media apps from my phone. I had this habit of checking the news a few times in an hour, and this eliminated that habit.

Turn off Personalised Suggestions

By tracking our search results, Google makes sure that we have some content available for us to consume 24×7. I see very less relevant ads and recommendations after taking the step of turning of recommendations and personalised results.

Try to consume long content

I consume long forms of content like books, podcasts, well-researched articles and documentaries. I take notes while reading books or articles. Long-form content usually is better researched and has less BS with a better attention span.

Mute all notifications

All notifications are muted on my phone except the call notifications during work hours.

Find Sources of Accurate meaningful information

The majority of the information I consume is through newsletters these days. For publications, bloggers or writers who are trustworthy, I usually subscribe to their newsletters so that I can consume information through my email. Other than this, I research a lot using Wikipedia. Any content outside is only consumed when I’m researching a particular topic, like writing this blog post.

Time Blocking

I use the technique of time blocking for reading emails, social media or for entertainment. I try to spend no more than 1.5 hours per day reading emails. I limit social media platforms I use like Reddit and Twitter to a maximum of 30 minutes a day. Entertainment like Music, YouTube usually accounts for a maximum of 1 hour per day. Rest of the time I spend usually reading books, building stuff or learning something.

No- Distraction Time

I usually have these phases of no-distraction throughout the day. For example, when I’m writing an article or learning something, I usually turn on the Zen Mode on, my phone. This makes sure that I cannot use my phone in this period of time. Also on Sundays, I try to avoid smartphone use as long as possible. Outside office hours my phone is usually set to Airplane mode so that I’m not distracted by unnecessary calls or messages.

Set Phone display to Monochrome

Smartphones usually have an option to set the colours in your display. I use a OnePlus handset and it allows me to set the display colour as Monochrome. My phone is usually set to this and my phone display is less appealing due to this reason.

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