Last spring I blogged about steps I was taking in an attempt to take back control of my attention span. Where I could, I determined when I interacted with my phone, social media, etc. as opposed to it trying to determine that for me.
I’m happy to report that just simply turning off most app notifications on my phone has been pretty effective. I still fall in the same trap we all do of getting lost in a newsfeed or other app on occasion. It’s much less frequent and the feeling of going on Facebook or another platform when I choose as opposed to when any little buzz, ding or ping dictates feels a lot better.
This has led to more digging and thinking around this subject of focus, attention, creativity, etc. One realization this exploration has uncovered is that a world of abundant access to information makes boredom somewhat of an endangered species. While that may not sound like such a bad thing, this comes at a cost.
Sitting at a railroad crossing. A few minutes at home before the family returns. A brief airport delay. A rainy day. These used to be moments that forced us to spend time roaming around our own minds. We allowed ourselves time to contemplate, to develop new ideas or formulate new goals for ourselves.
In today’s world, sitting at a railroad crossing means checking an e-mail or two. A few minutes at home? I wonder what’s on Facebook or maybe I could order that thing I’ve been wanting on Amazon. Airport delay? An endless supply of books, movies, news or any other media we wish to consume.
When do we have time to develop our own minds? Our own sense of self? When do our minds get to be still?
This notion of stillness came from a comedian, of all places. In a podcast interview with Bill Simmons (warning, the linked podcast contains a fair amount of profanity), comedian Pete Holmes talked about this phenomenon in relation to a comedian or other creative talent developing new material. He likened our best thoughts and ideas to fish in a lake. When are fish easiest to spot? When the water is calm and still. His concern is that phones, social media, etc. act like high winds blowing across our mental lakes, creating constant whitecaps and rough waters that disrupt and prevent us from accessing those thoughts and ideas.
This has all kinds of practical applications in our day-to-day lives. It also has practical application in our ability to think long-term, which is where the world of financial planning comes in.
Part of what helps us be at our best as planners is having a good sense of a client’s priorities and long-term goals. While longer-term goals are often fluid in nature, they can be downright impossible to uncover if we never allow ourselves the room to think more deeply about what we want from life. A world that demands we look at the next headline, friend request or tweet RIGHT NOW doesn’t allow much time for what some might call boredom, but others might define as very healthy and necessary space to ponder the next goal or great idea they want to introduce into their lives.
Pete offered up a few ideas that I’ve adopted along with some of my own in phase two of my little experiment on having more control over the information in my life. One of my favorites is not having the phone in the bedroom, or at least having the discipline to not look at it first thing in the morning if its serves as your alarm or other necessary tool. The idea is to eliminate the urge to wake up and immediately engage with the world through news, e-mail and social media. By just keeping the phone at bay the first few minutes of the day, you give yourself some room to wake up, notice any changes in how you’re feeling physically or mentally and start the day on your own terms rather than allowing headlines, notifications or other stimuli to dictate how you’re feeling. This can help put the rest of the world’s news in perspective and steal a few extra minutes of time to think in your busy day.
I’m not sure there’s any going back with all the world’s knowledge constantly at our fingertips, but I do think it’s important, and in terms of financial planning, crucial, to carve out a few minutes here and there to think about what we want from life beyond the very short-term. We try to provide some of this space in our discovery and other planning meetings, but that can only offer so much. Whether fishing or some other activity is where you find your best time to let your mind roam, one of my resolutions for 2018 is to spend a little more time making sure those mental fish have a little calmer water to swim in from time to time.