More information and choices automatically lead to rushed living, for the supply of your time is fixed. By trying to accommodate every new thing modernity produces, you end up breathless, following the herd as a cognitive shortcut.
Unless you live a hermetic life, it is not news that modernity constantly bombards you with all manner of noise — products, news, information. And, if you allow yourself to take in much of this, you are going to be overwhelmed. There simply isn’t enough time or energy to fully consider each new thing! There is a fixed amount of time available each day and there is a limit to your mental energy too.
And, what happens when we start to feel tired and out of time as we wrestle with the noise? It reduces clarity of mind and pushes us into the dangerous mode of rushed living. We begin to use quick, non-conscious, cognitive shortcuts as if on autopilot. Shortcuts like simply following the herd and copying what others are doing, rather than really considering if it is right for you.
But, why do we find ourselves rushing and needing such cognitive shortcuts in the first place?
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it”.
This is what pioneering psychologist and Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman, chose when asked to name one scientific concept that would improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit. Something he calls the Focussing Illusion. It points to how whatever we are thinking about becomes the most important thing in that moment.
The focusing illusion arises because of our tendency to give more value to what is currently in our consciousness and to ignore information we do not have. Kahneman very aptly calls this WYSIATI (What You See Is All There Is). Of course, what is currently at the forefront of your mind is very often quite important. For example, if you are thinking about your empty stomach, it probably means you need to eat! So, it usually makes sense to attend to what is in your mind’s eye.
But, how does this natural and often useful tendency, then, lead to rushed living?
Falling into rushed living
The problem is that, modernity, with its information complexity and mass media, works to hijack your attention. Preying on the focusing illusion, it makes you think that whatever IT puts in front of you, IS the most important thing. And, the more that you fall for it, the worse it gets. For, the more time you spend on their never-ending agenda, the more this agenda feels important because you are giving it your attention. Because it is at the forefront of your mind. This is the focussing illusion at play.
Now add tiredness and time limitations into the mix and you get the perfect conditions for rushed living. For being manipulated into focusing on the noise and doing things you never needed to! But, who says that you NEED to do anything? Your attention is yours to give away. The problem arises only if you start running after every new thing and news item like it’s so damn important. (If you are interested in reading more about different types of attention and what it means to be mindful, you may do so here).
Ok, what to do about it, then? Awareness of the state of affairs is the first and most important defence. We empower ourselves just by becoming aware of how we can so easily fall into rushed living. Noticing the pull of what your mind’s eye is focused on, is the beginning of breaking free from it.
A second useful defence is to simplify your life by very actively deciding what matters to YOU. If you have a good understanding of what is truly important, you don’t have to be distracted by the daily noise. For, you have already done the work to know what you want to dedicate your time and energy to.
Breaking free from rushed living requires intention
So, it’s much easier to say no to the nonsense they serve-up, when you are very clear about what matters, and why it matters to YOU. But, this cannot happen on its own. It takes a very deliberate intention on your part. The intention to become more aware of yourself and your world.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.