There is much current discussion of social media sites compiling your private data – but that’s not what they want to steal from you.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube….what they want is your attention – the very fabric of your life experience.

In this episode, John discusses the battle for your attention and how to guard your creative work time.


Deep Work by Cal Newport

Pomodoro Timer

Waking Up Meditation App

Self Journal


Episode Transcript

Episode 116 – Guarding Your Attention

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. And the reason I say that is because your time and more specifically, your attention, is absolutely precious and your attention needs to be guarded constantly. You know, a lot is being made of Facebook and Google and the amount of data that they’re taking from us, and everyone’s concerned about their privacy and of course that is a legitimate concern. But you know, what social media is stealing from us is not our data. They can actually have my data. I’m okay with that. I will trade my data for the conveniences that social media provides, but what they steal from us is our attention. That’s what’s valuable to them. The data is just so they know how to steal more of your attention.

And as I talked about ’em back in episode 97 about getting brain hacked, there are very, very smart people who are figuring out ways to keep you addicted to social media. And so we have to be super careful about how we use it. And I set parameters around social media that I still violate. I still break, and I did it this past week. Someone posted something on Facebook that I disagreed with. And of course people post things that I disagree with all the time. But this was a particular subject and it was stated in a particular way. And then my attention was hijacked and now I started to think about it and why it was wrong. And then I started considering responding, which is against my personal rules for myself.

And so I sat and I composed a response and I composed it again and I changed the wording and I thought about it, all this stealing my time and attention. And then I posted it and now of course my brain keeps going. Did someone respond? Did someone comment? Did someone respond? So now I am checking Facebook, which is what they want. That’s the trap. That’s the addictive trap. Because you go to check on something and 20 minutes later you can’t even remember what you went to check on or you remembered what you went to check on. No one had commented yet, and yet I managed to waste another 20 minutes and off I go, and now I start to go down that rabbit hole. Your attention is the most precious thing that you have. All that we have in life, and I know this is a cliche, but all that we have is this very moment which is now gone.

So now it’s this moment which is now gone forever. So it’s in these constant fleeting moments. That’s all we have. But our attention dictates the quality of that moment. Your attention dictates the quality of your life experience. And there are so many things that can inspire to steal it away. And right now in this precious moment, you are paying attention to what I am saying. And that’s why I opened the podcast with thanking you because it really is all you have in this moment and your attention. And what happens is we have our moment and we’re not even aware of it because our attention has been stolen and we’re caught up in thought that just ties us into knots and then it stops us from doing good work. It causes us to procrastinate. I can’t even say that word today. Procrastinate.

It makes our vocal sessions less than optimal, are practicing less than optimal. If we are distracted and our attention is stolen away during performance, it’s less than optimal. When I perform which is more rare these days, but actually had to perform this past week and it’s a reminder how as a teacher, I need to keep on that performance train because it makes you really have to keep your chops up. But when I was performing, it really was about being extremely present in the moment and just communicating and being with the people in the room, and putting out my energy and my focus and allowing to communicate with them, on many levels to the best of my ability, and to allow my mind to be completely in that moment. And so what I want to do today is just give you some ways that I work on the quality of my attention of being in the moment and then having my attention on what is going to serve me best.

And what does not serve me best is stepping into some silly online debate with someone whose mind I’m not going to change. And then worried about what they are going to say and then am I going to respond? And then the little meaningless ego hits of people liking what I said or cheering me on or just all of that adolescent nonsense that does not seem to leave us as adults. Unfortunately, that’s what social media preys upon. And I’ll tell you, if you put yourself on a social media restricted diet, Facebook will bombard you. They will come after you. You will start getting your email hammered because they want your attention. They already have your information, they need your attention, they sell your attention. And I as a business person, I purchase the attention that people give Facebook so that I can put my goods and services and my music academy and my courses to people that I think would be interested and benefit from them.

And Facebook is not looking to give people an unpleasant experience because that would cause people to give them less attention. So Facebook will actually reward you if people are responding positively to your ad and they will punish you if they’re not responding positively to your ad. And as a matter of fact, if you try to be a little spammy, you’ll get your account yanked. So they really do want you to have a good experience because they want you there all the time. So first rule, really understand how social media is engineered, and all those things that just keep pulling you away. For me, it was removing apps from my phone. I will sometimes cheat and look it up on the mobile browser, but then I have to close those. So I have to be really careful. If I give myself an inch man, I am stepping into things more powerful than I, and people smarter than I that are stealing my attention.

I really, really like Evernote, and Evernote is an app that I use on my computer where if I’ve got a bunch of tabs open, I can just click on Evernote and it will save it for me and I can put it in a certain folder and then I don’t have to have all these distracting tabs open. And if I come up with an idea, I can just put a note into Evernote and it’s gone. I can keep my inbox pretty clear. So I really like a Evernote. It really takes care of fear of missing out because again, it can house everything. And therefore when I’m bouncing around doing research for a course or a lecture, I just stick it all in Evernote. So I don’t have this mess of open tabs.

In my computer I have a daily task journal that I use. I use one called Self Journal. There are obviously plenty, but I’m very religious about it. Every single day I open that journal and I try and fill it out as much as I can. The more I fill out my journal and I have a schedule the less time I’m going to be tempted to go around and just putter on nonsense and allow my attention to be wasted on frivolous things. And we do need to take breaks. And occasionally I like to have my attention go to frivolous things. And for whatever reason, I don’t know why, because if I was standing outside of myself, I go, why are you wasting your time with that – but man, celebrity news, for whatever reason, always grabs my attention. Even celebrities I don’t care about will grab my attention. That and like crazy, true crime stories.

So I’ll give myself a little block of time where you can go, just look at my junk food knowledge garbage, and then get away from it. Working in 25 minute blocks, the Pomodoro technique, which is named after a tomato shaped kitchen timer. You set that 25 minute block and you do not do anything else but work doing those 25 minutes. That really follows Parkinson’s law, which is any task will fill to the time allotted to it. And we all experienced that. You have in the U.S. until, what is it, April 14th to do your taxes and pretty much everybody’s running to their accountant in April. Now I’m not allowed to do that because my father-in-law is an accountant so I have to get mine in early. But in other things in life, you will wait to the last minute.

So what this 25 minutes does is it puts a sense of urgency on your work. When you are practicing, setting aside a 25 minute block of absolute focused vocal practice or absolute focused songwriting. Or if you’re a voice teacher, of study or content creation, and then when you’ve done that 25 minutes, give yourself a five minute, 10 minute break and then do another 25 minutes. I do those at least two a day, six days a week. And I get a lot done. When people ask me, which is more and more, and it’s actually one of the more flattering things people ask me, How do you get so much done? The Pomodoro technique is huge for me. And the other thing is understanding the difference between deep work. And one of my favorite books is Deep Work by Cal Newport. I highly, highly recommend it.

Put links to all these things in the show notes for this episode. That will be for episode 116. But the book Deep Work is just a wonderful read and deep work is the type of work. It’s not answering emails or texting somebody back or scheduling a student. It is the work of songwriting, practicing, singing, writing a blog post. It’s deep creative work that needs space and it needs concentration and it is very special. And the time that you set aside for deep work needs to be guarded like crazy. It is a very beautiful thing to put your attention towards. Deep, deep work. 

So really think about that deep work and when you want to focus in, allow your attention to be completely on it. One of the things that we all have to watch out for is rumination, is allowing our mind to go on a problem, something that’s bugging us, something someone said or a worry. And we just grind and we grind and we grind. And what we’ve done is we’ve taken this problem and it may be a future problem or it may be just something where you’re, where we are worrying about that’s not even going to happen or it’s something that happened in the past that’s already gone. But we’re allowing this to steal our attention, to steal this precious moment that’s now gone and our attention within that moment, which defines the very quality of our life. And we have to learn to get control of our thoughts and get control of our mind and not allow this to consume us.

Now, for myself, the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve been doing this just about, I think every day for the past year is a meditation. And I do 10, 15 minutes a day. There’s an app that I personally really, really liked that really connected with me. And I tried a few of them before this app came out. It’s called Waking Up. It’s by the neuroscientist Sam Harris. Sam Harris can be controversial in some quarters outside of meditation. He’s written numerous books. He’s written books on religion and his podcast Making Sense definitely steps into political areas that they get people arguing quite a bit, but there’s nothing political about this and it has lessons. It has I think 50-lesson course to get you started. And then once you’re done with that, then you go to the daily meditations.

And I have found just through doing this 10 minutes a day that I am more and more able to do, break thought patterns and become aware of when my attention is begun to degrade and I can just stop it and come back into the present moment. And it’s pretty wonderful to have work that I need to do and I’m not really feeling it. We all have that, I don’t want to do that today. And what I can do is I can step back and just recognize that as just an energy pattern in consciousness. It’s not a big deal. I just look at that energy pattern of resistance. It just fades away. And I allow myself to get in the present moment and I set my 25 minute timer cause you can do just about anything for 25 minutes. I can do just about anything for 25 minutes except watch the Real Housewives of Orange County.

But that 25 minutes goes very quickly when you are focused on your work. And as a matter of fact, that timer will go off and I find myself like, Oh no, I want to keep working but I make myself stop. And that’s from being in resistance 25 minutes before. So being able to be mindful is, it’s just been an incredible gift that I’ve given myself. I mean I’m in my Self Journal. They have you write three things that you’re grateful for in the morning and then you do it again in the evening. And the number of times that I have put mindfulness as something that I’m truly grateful for in that moment, it’s one of the top answers. If I go through my journals, I keep writing it again and again. Obviously, my loved ones. And the other thing I’m just so thankful for is health. But mindfulness is just huge to me.

So here are your marching orders. Here’s your task. Just resolve to be more present in your life. Resolve to guard the quality of your attention. Resolve to take steps to put barriers around that. Don’t let people or apps steal your attention because when it’s being stolen, we’re not aware of it. We become so consumed by the emotion, by the frustration, by the curiosity, all of these different things that we’re not, we’re no longer aware that our attention is being stolen. And that is the dirty secret of social media. You don’t even know it’s being stolen. Again, we run around screaming about our private information and screaming about our data. Meanwhile, they’re stealing the most precious thing you have your attention.

Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, I’ve got a good number of courses there. You can just click on the menu, check out the courses. I’ve got some free ones there. People really like my straw course, straw warmups. I’ve also got a very inexpensive Secrets of Belting course, only $17, and it really breaks down how belt works and the science behind that. And if you want to get really serious, you can click on my teacher training program, click on teacher training in the upper menu and that will take you to my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy. And that is my program to teach you how to become a contemporary singing voice teacher. I’m very, very proud of that. And I also do monthly live webinars for the members. And people who sign up now, you’re getting my CVTA Elite level for free, where I will even personally coach you in how to grow your studio business. So, thank you, all of you who’ve sent in emails, letting me know how you enjoy the podcast and for episode suggestions, my email is [email protected]. I do read all of my emails. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.