A few years ago, I was attending Clemson University as a graduate student. Before attending Clemson, I had zero interest in football or sports in general. But because football was all the rage in Clemson (they are one of the best college football programs in America), I justified slowly becoming interested in Clemson football. Not college football… but Clemson football.
I had big goals beyond getting my PhD plus my wife and I had recently become foster parents of three kids. So I didn’t want to be too distracted. But my kids loved watching the games and so we had a healthy relationship with watching Clemson football.
But every behavior when repeated becomes more enticing. All behavior is, in actuality, addictive. The more you do something, the more you crave it, even if subconsciously.
Your behavior shapes your identity. You can quickly go from someone who only watches a little bit of football here-and-there to checking updates more and more by yourself . This can then lead you to greater curiosity, where you start getting interested beyond just Clemson, but to college football in general. All of a sudden you know the top players for all of the top teams. But then, you’re not just watching and studying college football, you start getting into other sports, etc.
Humans are incredibly curious creatures and we are very easily addicted. We slowly adapt to our behavior and that behavior can quickly take us places we didn’t initially plan to go. We can increasingly justify behaviors or distractions we once considered extreme or ridiculous.
I’m not against watching sports, by the way. I only use sports as an example because over the past few years, I’ve watched myself become far more easily distracted by sports than I used to be. I’ve watched myself become more easily distracted by lesser and lesser quality things.
Things which were not even enticing have now become genuine distractions.
- What about you?
- What actually distracts you?
- What do you need to be informed about, which has little if any relevance to your actual goals and values?
- How much progress are you making toward your genuine goals and desires?
- Do you justify less and less focus?
- How often do you get into a flow state?
- How creative are you?
- How productive and engaged are in, on a daily basis?
- How connected do you feel with other people?
- How well can you just unplug from your technology, be present, and go to sleep at a decent hour?
- How clear are you on the person you want to be — your future self?
- How aggressive are you marching toward the person you want to be?
Desires Are Trained, Not Innate
“What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become.” — Neal A. Maxwell
You must train your own desires. This is what makes you a conscious human being. Just because you want something doesn’t mean you should want it, nor does it mean you must want it.
Think about it: Your desires change all the time. There were things you wanted a few years ago which you no longer want anymore.
The question is: What do you actually want right now? And why do you want that? Is it something truly worth wanting? Where will the rabbit-hole actually take you if you follow it to its logical conclusion? Is it a yellow-brick road to nowhere? What you consistently do when you’re alone is the clearest reflection of what you desire — and thus, who you are.
We all have selective attention. Our brains notice the things we believe to be relevant. Those things which reflect our identity and goals. The things you notice say a lot about yourself. Positive people see the good in the world. Negative people see the negative. People who like Tesla’s notice Tesla’s on the road. People who want to become wealthy notice opportunities to make money. People who are out trying to help others notice those in need.
Jim Rohn once said, “Learn how to separate the majors and the minors. A lot of people don’t do well simply because they major in minor things.”
What is influencing and shaping your desires, identity, and behavior? Obviously the media and marketing shape our desires. But what is shaping your desires and goals? What is shaping your views of your own future? Your input shapes your outlook and your outlook shapes your behavior. You must choose your “inputs” or influences. Whatever influence you choose will take your desires, behaviors, and life in a direction. You must choose what you pay attention to, what you absorb, and what shapes you.
What could you want?
Who is the person you genuinely want to become?
If you want to become successful, you must learn to WANT to be successful. If you want to be healthy, you must learn to WANT to be healthy. But in order to do so, you must train that desire. You must fuel it through constant exposure, increased desire, intensified emotional connection, and repeated behavior.
In the book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill stated, “The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.”
Your Behavior Reflects Your Envisioned Future
“The future is our nature. We are creatures who are drawn into the future.” — Dr. Marty Seligman
There has been a massive shift in psychology over the past 20 years. For over a century, the core assumption was that human behavior was driven by the past. However, the truth is that our behavior is actually a reflection of our future.
Just look at your daily behavior. Why do you engage in the behaviors you do? There is a concept in philosophy — teleology — which argues that everything we do as people is for a specific purpose or end. For example, when you go to the bathroom, you have an end in mind — going to the bathroom. When you go to the grocery store — there is an end in my… getting groceries.
All behavior, then, is goal-driven. Even clicking the link to this article was driven by an end. You were curious, or wanted to learn something, or wanted to be inspired, or wanted to disagree. You clicked this link FOR A REASON. When you look at any individual person, you can know their projected future simply by looking at their consistent behavior.
But back to the idea of selective attention: The only reason you noticed this link in the first place is because you’ve trained yourself. You’ve trained yourself to be conditioned to notice things like this.
What you pay attention to reflects how you view your own future. If you have huge goals in a certain area, you’ll start to learn more and more in that area. Your attention will be wrapped-up in that thing.
When you look at any individual person, you can know their projected future simply by looking at their consistent behavior. Your behavior is driven by your projected future. What do you see in your future? That’s what’s directing you right now. The clearer your future, the more congruent will be your behavior. If your behavior is radically contradictory, then you aren’t yet clear or sold on your future. You haven’t fully decided.
What Have You Been Putting Off?
“Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them.” — Marcus Aurelius
It’s incredibly easy to get distracted. It’s easy to get pushed-off course. It’s even easy to get sucked-into behaviors and addictions that take your life somewhere you didn’t plan to go. It’s easy to take our loved ones for granted. It’s easy to be disengaged and disinterested.
But what’s the cost?
When you have a clear future self — the person and life you truly want, you must actively choose it. You can’t let little distractions come in because little things, if not checked, will become a slow boil.
If you want to be a conscious and intentional human being, you’ve got to pay attention to what is distracting you. The more focused you become, the less you’ll even notice all the noise out there. You’ll be too busy, too engaged, and too in flow to see it. Your attention will be exactly where it needs to be. You’ll be making huge progress — and therefore, you’ll be increasing in confidence and commitment. You’ll show up much differently. You’ll create more peak experiences for yourself and others. Your future will keep getting bigger and therefore your behavior will keep getting better.
What are you committed to?
Are you going to let little distractions get in the way?
Have you slowly allowed yourself to get more distracted than you initially planned?
Are you ready to get focused on your desired future self?
Are you ready to make a true decision — which means cutting-off alternative options?
Will you raise your standards for how you spend your time and attention?
Will you be more connected to those you love?
Will you focus on what really matters, and what will really bring you to where you want to go?
Everything you do matters. Everything you do shapes not only you as a person, but those around you.
Dr. Benjamin Hardy is an organizational psychologist and bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work. His blogs have been read by over 100 million people and are featured on Forbes, Fortune, CNBC, Cheddar, Big Think, and many others. He is a regular contributor to Inc. and Psychology Today and from 2015-2018, he was the #1 writer, in the world, on Medium.com. He and his wife Lauren adopted three children through the foster system in February 2018 and, one month later, Lauren became pregnant with twins, who were born in December of 2018. They live in Orlando.
Image courtesy of cottonbro.