The Most Important Skill of the 21st Century
“In this information-rich, time-poor society, attention has become our most important resource.” —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Bruce Less is credited with once saying, “The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”
I tend to think he is right and maybe now more than ever. Especially as our attention spans, all around the world, shrink.
In a world where distractions abound, both big and small, the greatest skill we can personally hone is the control of our attention. In fact, the ability to keep focus amid ever-increasing distractions may just be the greatest determining factor of success in the 21st Century.
Our attention is the driving force that shapes our lives. It is what creates wisdom from our past experiences and helps us make the most out of the skills we’ve developed, the education we’ve experienced, and the talents we’ve accumulated.
It is our attention that puts these assets to work, allowing us to make the most of our potential.
Only with focused attention do we make the most out of these strengths. Ultimately, it’s where we direct our attention that shapes the direction of our path and how effectively we reach our goals and what we accomplish with the one life that we have to live.
This is why controlling your attention is so important.
Here’s How to Do It:
1. Simplify Your Environment.
Simplicity is the stepping stone to clarity. A cluttered environment, whether physical or digital, results in a cluttered mind.
By minimizing the unnecessary, we remove visual noise and make room for focused attention.
This doesn’t just mean owning fewer possessions, but also decluttering our online spaces.
2. Practice Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the art of being fully present. It’s a skill that trains your brain to focus on the here and now, preventing it from being hijacked by past regrets or future anxieties.
Simple mindfulness exercises can be a great starting point. So can religious rituals like prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading.
3. Notice When Distractions Are Getting Your Attention.
Awareness is key in controlling attention. Work hard to notice when your attention drifts.
Are there specific triggers that lead your mind astray? Maybe a particular time of day or a specific task that causes your mind to wander? Or maybe it’s a specific app or website that grabs your attention? Begin to notice them in your day and week.
Identifying these can help us regain control when our focus begins to waver. It is certainly an important step.
4. Understand Both Big and Small Distractions.
Distractions, both big and small, can impact our focus. Small distractions are often immediate—a phone notification, a game, Tik-Tok videos—things that interrupt us briefly, but frequently.
On the other hand, there are larger distractions in life that can also keep us from meaning—things like an excessive pursuit of wealth or constant worry about others’ opinions. These distractions, often more subtle than a buzzing phone, can divert our attention over a longer period.
Recognizing and tackling both types is essential for controlling our attention.
5. Prioritize Time.
It is important that we start each day by setting our intention and remembering our priorities.
By organizing our time according to what we value most and our goals, we can better direct our attention. What activities today truly deserve your focus? What aligns with your purpose? Asking these questions can guide us to invest our attention wisely.
Of course, prioritizing time can only happen if we’ve set clear goals.
6. Set Clear Goals.
Clear goals channel our attention.
They act as a compass, guiding our attention and focus toward what truly matters. Of course, we all get to decide for ourselves what that’s going to be. But the important step is to do it. That’s why I included an entire chapter on Finding Your Purpose in Things That Matter.
Also, it’s helpful to remember that breaking down larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks can help us overcome overwhelm and maintain focus.
7. Take Regular Breaks.
Rest is different than distraction—especially when we are intentional about it.
Rest is not the enemy of productivity, it is a requirement for it. Regular breaks give your attention the time it needs to recharge and refocus.
Controlling your attention, just like any skill requires practice, patience, and pursuit.
But the rewards are immense. A more intentional, fulfilling life awaits those who can harness the power of their attention.
Minimalism is not just about owning less. It’s about making room for more—more focus, more joy, more purpose. By controlling our attention, we make room for the moments, the people, and the passions that matter most.
Controlling your attention may be the greatest skill of the 21st Century. And that’s good news. Because anyone can do it.