The world needs stimulation. Animals and plants evolved around a constant stream of stimuli, from sun, to water, to wind, to many other inputs from the outside world. The universe is interactive.
This means that, from the day you are born, you will be faced with people wanting something from you, whether it be your body, your mind, your money or your entertainment. You will quickly receive the message, especially if you are a social being, that giving people the things they want can result in them being attracted to you, and not giving them what they want can result in your losing their attention.
THE ‘ATTENTION LOOP’
From time to time, clients come to me who are stuck in this ‘attention loop’. Sometimes they suffer from worry that their partner is beginning to find them boring. Or else that their friends will shy away from them if they don’t indulge in behaviours which their social group wants to see.
The pressure and stress of this ‘attention loop’ can be considerable. Sometimes it is made worse by inconsistency in early carers. For instance, a person may have a parent whose love and attention they seek, but the parent’s love is conditional on certain behaviours. The person can grow up feeling a terrible anxiety that goes something like this: ‘I fear that I am not doing what I need to be doing, that I’m failing in some way’.
MAKING OURSELVES BORING
Sometimes, though, we need to make ourselves boring. In other words, we need to back away from the constant desire to impress and please others, and relax into something else. If others want to move away from us, then they can. This ability enables us to create a peaceful life for ourselves away from the pressure of other people’s gaze.
Victoria spent a huge amount of time in the company of friends. She was always out and about, and her social diary was always full. She was the one who would get just a little more drunk than necessary, and would end up spilling out her emotions about one drama or another before the night was out. When she was out, she felt fulfilled, as though she was safe in the company of others.
But in the quiet of her own home, she didn’t really know what to think. She would start second-guessing what everyone else was thinking about her. She couldn’t relax in her own company. She would think of something that bothered her, and message or phone a friend to get talking about it.
Victoria became aware that these social habits weren’t working for her. She realised that she was driven by a constant need for other people’s attention, approval and engagement. Her day was one long PR exercise, to make sure that no one forgot her, and that no one thought badly of her. She found this pattern exhausting. She was fed up with trying to be everywhere and with everyone. Her fear of missing out had turned into a fear of staying in.
SPENDING MORE TIME ALONE
As an exercise, Victoria began to try spending more time hidden from others. She deliberately chose to spend some days away from her boyfriend, overcoming the fear that he would leave her if she left him alone. She experimented with evening classes and creative activities, where she was able to focus on what someone else was saying, and it wasn’t always about her.
Eventually, she began to overcome her driven fear of being boring to others. She actually started to enjoy the feeling of being a little anonymous. She had days when she didn’t dress up or wear makeup. She noticed herself becoming less self-centred. And she definitely noticed herself becoming more relaxed.
ADVANTAGES OF ESCAPING THE ‘ATTENTION LOOP’
Victoria is just one example of what can happen if we make a conscious effort to relax about the ‘attention loop’. The benefits include:
- We become easier in our own company
- We relax about what others think of us
- We get involved in a wider range of interests
- We spend less time, money and effort trying to impress others
- We let go of those who are not genuinely interested in us
- We allow access to those who are genuinely interested in us
Above all, we will find that those people whom we were trying to impress, but who didn’t really share our values, drift away from us. And those whom we don’t need to impress, because they already share our values and interests, come to us quite naturally. This can be an enormous social relief, and a great energy-saver.
The universe is interactive, and others will always want something from us. If we feed this too much, we can end up in a painful ‘attention loop’ where we are never satisfied because others are never satisfied. We start working too hard to impress those around us.
It’s good to learn to escape this ‘attention loop’ by learning to be happy alone, whether or not it satisfies others. If we do this, we will be happier in our own company, and less anxious.
Also, the people we were falsely trying to impress will tend to drift away, and those who genuinely share our authentic values and interests can drift towards us. In the end, this gives us a better and more supportive social circle.