Why We Speak of “Paying” Attention

Published February 12, 2015 ⚡ Updated on October 2, 2023 by Stefan Rössler
paying for attention

Money is an invention. Attention is real, it’s limited, and it’s valuable.

Your attention is probably the most important resource in this world.

That’s why we speak of paying attention. But how do you pay your attention? What do you trade it for?

Find out why attention will be the currency of a new economy and why, in the future, our attention will be sold.

Right now I struggle.

I want to click the browser tab behind my text editor that indicates there’s one new message for me to read.

It sucks and I just can’t stop thinking about it.

I’m sure it’s not important, but who knows? Maybe it’s good news. That would be great!

No, it wouldn’t.

Instead of focusing my attention on the writing I would be wasting precious resources.

I would be spending my attention on distractions which is just like throwing money on the street.

OK, I’m back from reading the message.

Turns out it wasn’t important, but I’ve learned a thing about attention while being away:

You can’t just open a bank account and save some of your attention for the future.

Attention is real, the future is not. Future is only an idea of how your life could be someday.

Attention is your life, today.

Instead of saving your attention for the future (which is impossible) you can just focus it.

Focus your attention and you’ll be able to get something in return. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you try to keep your focus.

In my case, I’ve lost my focus when checking the browser tab.

The message wasn’t important and suddenly I felt lost. I could sense the urge to check my emails. I wanted to open Twitter just to make sure … just to make sure what?

That’s when I got my attention back and focused it on the original investment: the first few paragraphs of this article.

The finished text might not be too good, but writing it was enjoyable and definitely worth my time.

It feels much more rewarding than checking my emails again and watching real-time data in Analytics (which I do too much).

Don’t get me wrong, paying attention to emails, social media, analytics etc. isn’t bad. It might be the exact right thing to do.

You only have to ask yourself – Do I really focus on it or is it just distracting me from something else?

Our attention is limited and we have to choose how we want to invest it. It’s probably even more important than how we invest our money.

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