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How to reduce digital distractions: advice from medieval monks - Jamie Kreiner | Aeon Ideas

https://aeon.co/ideas/how-to-reduce-digital-distractions-advice-from-medieval-monks

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How to reduce digital distractions: advice from medieval monks - Jamie Kreiner | Aeon Ideas
Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else.

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Medieval monks

Medieval monks had a hard time concentrating while they were supposed to focus on divine communication: to read, to pray and sing, and to work to understand God.

The ideal was a mind that was always and actively reaching out to its target by working hard at making the mind behave. The monks found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming.

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A method for concentrating

Nuns, monks, preachers and the people they educated were to visualize the material they were processing. A branchy tree or a finely feathered angel. The images might loosely correspond to the substance of an idea.

The point was to give the mind something to draw, to indulge its appetite for interesting forms while sorting its ideas into some logical structure.

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The problem of concentration

Any plan for sidestepping distractions calls for strategies on sidestepping distraction.

It is a fantasy to think that we can dodge distraction once and for all. There will always be exciting things to create distraction for the mind.

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The new law of productivity

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

Deep work vs. Shallow work

  • Deep work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. Creates value.
  • Shallow work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. Doesn't create value.

4 philosophies to integrate Deep Work into your life

  • Monastic: maximize Deep Work by minimizing or removing shallow obligations. Isolate yourself for long periods of time without distractions; no shallow work allowed
  • Bimodal: divide your time into some clearly defined stretches to deep pursuits and leave the rest open to everything else. Reserve a few consecutive days when you will be working like a monastic. You need at least one day a week
  • Rhythmic: involves creating a routine where you define a specific time period — ideally three to four hours every day — that you can devote to Deep Work
  • Journalistic: alternate your day between deep and shallow work as it fits your blocks of time. Not recommended to try out first.

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The imposter

True mindfulness has been spoiled by an imposter. The imitation provides an excuse to be self-centered and self-indulgent. It promises health and spiritual purity.

Definition of mindfulness

Mindfulness is the nonjudgemental awareness of the richness, subtlety and variety of the present moment, not just of the self. It is not the same as meditation, although meditation can form part of it.

Mindfulness acknowledges every moment of existence, good and bad. It is used to stand still in the moment, reflect and gain perspective.

Mindfulness is a limited tool

Gazing inward to focus on a connection with yourself cannot deliver magical benefits. Acknowledging your thoughts is not the same as cherishing them.

While mindfulness has some usefulness, we should also realize the benefits when we lose self-awareness, for example when we are in a state of flow.

Mindfulness is not a magic panacea

The inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction proclaims that mindfulness may "be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years...

Mindfulness has been repackaged

Although mindfulness originated from Buddhism, it has been stripped from most of its teachings. 

What remains is nothing more than a self-help tool to help one get used to the very conditions that caused the problems. While is it a noble aim to reduce stress and anxiety, it is more important to acknowledge and address the underlying cause of the suffering.

The message of the mindfulness

The message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause is in our mind - a "thinking disease" or a kind of attention deficit disorder. 

Rather than discussing how attention is monetized and manipulated by corporations, mindfulness advocates to view the crisis as an internal battle. The result is that we meekly retreat into the private sphere without critically engaging with the causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society.