According to the economist Tyler Cowen, “Average is over.” There is an increasing divide between those who are creating success in their lives and those being controlled by narratives, dopamine, and confusion.
The media, technology, and overall noise in the world is becoming incredibly powerful. If you’re not mindful, you’ll be absorbed by that noise. It will confuse you and keep you from being present in the moment.
Just this morning, I was in the gym and couldn’t help but notice half the people staring at their phones for large portions of time.
Are you at the gym?
Are you working out?
Or are you distracted by your technology?
Given the media climate, as well as the extreme marketing made available through social media, and the cocaine-like addiction we have to our smartphones — it can be incredibly difficult to be purposeful, focused, and happy.
If you do not create and control your environment, you’ll be distracted at best. More likely, you’ll be debilitated and defeatist. You’ll become pessimistic and reactive. Your hope and perspective will become darkened by the noise and confusion all around you.
Interestingly, all of this is happening at the very time when “success” and “purpose” are more available than ever. As author Cal Newport explains in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World:
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
“Deep work” is work you do in a cultivated environment designed for flow. Deep work is purpose-driven. It’s not distracted. It doesn’t happen by accident.
Also, “deep work” isn’t just related to “work,” but also relationships. As a father of five children, my children’s welfare requires “deep work” on my part. My children need a father who is present and purposeful, not reactive, fearful, and distracted.
Here are just a few outcomes of unhealthy smartphone (and technology) use:
- Increased depression, anxiety, and “daytime dysfunction”
- Decreased sleep quality
- Decreased psychological and emotional well-being
- Decreased emotional intelligence (this study also found that if parents are reflective and thoughtful about smartphone use, their children experience less detrimental effects)
- Increased stress (which lowers life satisfaction) and decreased academic performance (which lowers life satisfaction) among students
The remainder of this article provides key principles for handling the media situation that has become our ever-present world. And to be totally clear, this article is not anti-technology. We just witnessed SpaceX and NASA send people to the International Space Station from US soil. This is incredible, but it also required deep work to accomplish.
They Have A “Purpose”: A Freely Chosen Task
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” — Viktor Frankl
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” — Viktor Frankl
Without having a clear sense of “purpose” for your life, your present reality will be distracting and confusing. However, as conditions get worse, the need for a “purpose” becomes even more crucial.
During the Holocaust of WWII, Viktor Frankl was a Jewish man in the Nazi concentration camps. He witnessed starvation, brutality, and murder all around him. When everything is stripped from you, even your very dignity as a person, your chances of survival are based on one thing according to Frankl: Hope and purpose for your future.
The moment a person lost hope for their future, the present became meaningless and unbearable.
The problem for most people is that they are unclear on their “purpose.” They think their purpose is something they must discover or find. False.
Frankl explained it as simply as he possibly could: “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
Your “purpose” is the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. Emphasis on the words “freely chosen.” Your “purpose” isn’t broad and ambiguous. Rather, it is a tangible project, a chosen task. Getting a college degree could be a powerful purpose. Starting a business. Being a present parent. Writing a book. Running a marathon.
What is your freely chosen task?
What is the project you’re actively focusing on to give your life meaning and purpose here-and-now?
If you’re not actively creating a specific future, then your present will be meaningless and distracted. Research shows that you need a clear “future self” to make quality decisions here-and-now. You need a clear “future self” to engage in deliberate practice or the development of expertise. And you need a clear “future self” to be motivated.
You need hope as a person. Hope is an essential human need. Research shows that without hope, your chances of having the “grit” needed to overcome challenges will be slim. Grit relies on hope. Gritty people are the ones who push through challenges and hardships to create positive results in their lives and in the lives of other people.
Are you gritty?
Do you have hope?
What’s your purpose?
Unless you have a clear purpose, you won’t be able to properly handle the media onslaught.
They Are Strategically Ignorant
“I’m pretty oblivious to a lot of things intentionally. I don’t want to be influenced that much.” — Jason Fried, the founder of Basecamp
“Your input determines your outlook. Your outlook determines your output, and your output determines your future.” — Zig Ziglar
It’s too costly for your mind to be focused on the wrong things, once you become serious about making something of yourself and your life. In the book The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz explains:
- We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction.
- However, choice overload makes you question the decisions you make before you even make them.
- Choice overload leaves you in a perpetual state of FOMO — the fear of missing out — always looking over your shoulder and questioning the decisions you’ve made.
- This puts you in a constant state of stress, always feeling like you’re falling short, always questioning the decisions you’ve made, always wondering what could have been.
If you’re serious about achieving goals and intentionally moving forward in your life, you must create an environment that shields you from most of the world.
Strategic ignorance is not about being closed-minded. It’s about knowing what you want and knowing that, as a person, you can be easily swayed or derailed.
Peter Diamandis, one of the world’s foremost experts on entrepreneurship and the future of innovation, has said: “Today’s news media is a drug pusher, and negative news is their drug… I’ve stopped watching TV news. They couldn’t pay me enough money.” From his perspective, it’s easy to be seduced by the negative and the new.
Peter is strategically ignorant. He’s created an environment to shield himself from the distractions and negativity of the news media, while staying informed on the topics he cares about through careful and deliberate research.
Being a successful creative person requires selective ignorance. Another example is Seth Godin, who purposefully doesn’t read the comments on Amazon about his books. He used to do so, but it only left him feeling horrible and questioning himself. So now he has stopped.
Seth is selectively ignorant to what the trolls say, and he’s better off as a result. He doesn’t need that crap coming into his psyche, confusing his identity and purpose.
Selective ignorance is not the avoidance of learning. It’s not the avoidance of getting feedback. It’s simply the intelligence of knowing that with certain things and people, the juice will never be worth the squeeze. It’s knowing what to avoid.
They Have “Sacred Environments”
“If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.” — Marshall Goldsmith
In order to have clarity, you need time every single day to simple meditate, ponder, and reflect. Adding prayer and journaling will only help you more.
You need a “sacred environment” devoid of noise and confusion where you can get in touch with yourself.
For me, my “sacred environment” is my home and my car. My home is a great place where I can come to connect with what matters most to me. But I have five kids, so sometimes I need a quiet place to think and make decisions. Therefore, I jump in my car and drive to a peaceful place. I purposefully either keep my phone away from my body or on airplane mode.
The goal is to reflect on what’s going on. To journal about decisions you’re trying to make. Or even, to express what you’re currently dealing with. The truth is, we’re going through a lot in the world right now. Writing about what you’re going through allows you to better process and regulate your emotions.
You need a sacred environment to get clarity and make decisions. If you’re going to live an effective life, you need to make effective decisions. The state of mind in which you make those decisions is usually based on the “set-up” or environment you’re in.
Have a sacred environment that allows you to have clarity and peace of mind while you process life and make decisions to advance yourself.
They Are Aware of “Pre-Suasion” (i.e., “Set and Setting”)
“To persuade optimally, then, it’s necessary to pre-suade optimally. But how? In part, the answer involves an essential but poorly appreciated tenet of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.” — Robert B. Cialdini, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
It’s not enough to simply avoid various inputs. You also need to be aware WHEN you engage in particular media.
What you do “first” determines what happens “next.” That’s the science of pre-suasion.
Watching negative media just before bed will negatively influence your sleep. Looking at your email first thing in the morning will stop you from being able to get into a flow state for your “EAT THE FROG” work.
In other words, WHEN you engage with particular media matters, because that media will have a lasting affect on your mindset.
If you want to be present and engaged in what you’re doing, be aware of what you do RIGHT BEFORE performance — whatever that performance is. Before going home from work, I can’t listen to certain media because if I do, I struggle to be present and focused on my wife and kids when I get home.
If you do choose to engage with certain media, do so intentionally. Do so at the right time windows so you don’t wreck key performance in the important areas of your life.