When did life become so complicated?
There was a time in our childhood when life was simple, and we had the time to do all manner of things, like chasing a hula hoop down a path or noting the colours on the horizon.
Adulthood, in comparison, is a series of chasing loose ends in a land of distraction. We’re in constant motion, zigzagging from one thing to the next - barely attending to one need before another jumps in our path. Over time, accustomed to distraction, we actively seek it out, deploying technology and the media to aid us in our quest to fill our lives with as many diversions as possible. We measure our success by the sheer volume of information we consume, the number of events we attend, places we see, how many facts and figures we can roll off our tongue - this is progress, we say, this is the meaning of life.
But in the early days of psychology, it was attention - not distraction - that was championed. Attention “implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others,” wrote psychologist William James. It is “a condition which has the real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatter-brained state which in French is called distraction”. It is our ability to discard, ignore and block out that enables us to set goals and pursue them; to bolster memory; and to determine where we’re heading. For unless we decide what we’re chasing in life, others will step in and set the agenda for us.