What Are You Watching? [Why You Need “Attention Diet” And How To Start]8 min read

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“Attention diet” is an attempt to curtail and control the things you pay attention to (especially on screens), just as “going on a diet” requires you to eat less food, or only a particular kind of food to be healthy (or lose weight)

No chance on earth would a kid welcome the idea of being deprived of the time to watch the television. Hell no! You don’t take away the 5 pm Cartoon Network show and expect an “ I Love you” in return. Adults aren’t much different. We shun anyone who tries to regulate our time on the phone or television.

It is no mystery why this is so…

…our minds and bodies are wired to always say “Yes” to pleasure and “No” to pain. It is drawn to activities or substances that fill us with good feelings (that flood our brains with dopamine).

Why Do We Need Attention Diet?

A Netflix survey suggested that 73% of participants reported exciting feelings after binge-watching.

Now, not only “entertainments” are presented to us in enticing visual formats – for instance, we have Educational, inspirational, and motivational content all out there for our consumption – so, binge-watching isn’t bad in and of itself, but what is being watched is what matters most.

What are you watching?

In the Golden Age of Television, where we are glued to technology (like bread and butter), how can we say no to all that yummy content out there? – and by “yummy” I mean contents that really do not add value to you save stimulating your pleasure receptors.

We are sandwiched with portable devices – a PC, a pair of AirPods, smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, et cetera. Did I forget to mention the VR headsets? 

There is no escaping – our attention is stretched thinner and thinner, day by day. It is being bought and sold by the advertising companies (because your attention is worth its weight in gold).

And, considering that we are a cumulation of all the things we consume, isn’t it worth filtering? If we chose to go on diets (to eat balanced diets and more fruits and vegetables) rather than the Big Mac, Burritos, and Soda, doesn’t it also make sense to chose what we give our attention to? Sure it does. 

We need an Attention diet to ensure we not only avoid pointless, frivolous, and toxic content, but to get more of the high-value, helpful, and meaningful content. 

So, the questions worth asking are, “what are you watching?”, and “How much attention are you paying?”

It’s apparent that several aspects of our lives such as ourthoughts, political preference, as well as our cognitive abilitiesare influenced by the quality and quantity of contents we watch.

As a result of this pattern, we are rewarded with either positive or negative consequences which are readable in our habits and cognitive performance.

How Visual Content Affect Cognitive Performance

Despite the enormous educational content on Television, YouTube, Social media, etc. we are witnessing a decline in attention span, reading culture, and natural ways of learning.

Not to say, it has never been our culture to read as Africans. 

An academic article published in 2019, by Oytein Henares and his team linked some of the recent declines of I.Q score to access to cable television through an experiment on Norwegian Teenagers and young adults.

It was reported that this dreadful pattern is impeding the natural learning process – such as socialization, exploration, and Introspection. 

Now, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, our emotional state are also getting roasted.

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Does What You Watch Affect Your Mental Health And Emotions?

Like a rain of candies, the endless stream of stimulating contents we find (easily accessible, and consumable) today gives us mouth-watering excitements but also leaves harmful residues in our systems.

The key is SELF-AWARENESS. We are grownups, and ought to act like on. Attention diet doesn’t call for the absolute dismissal of pleasure, but control. It is about being able to call back our minds after a considerable amount of fun time.

In the past 3 to 4 decades, health-related issues, such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, obesity, and self-looting have shot to the sky. A lot of evidence points to the equal rise in the abundance of comfort and entertainment supplied by technology (especially visual content on social media).

It is not hard to see people who watch heavy television content that is filled with horror, or violent scenes, display signs of depression, anxiety, fear, violence, or develop a dark sense of humor with a low level of empathy (which they often and erroneously attribute to genius). With so many other cases of unrealistic expectations and demands as a result of the visual contents they have ingested (notable with contents related to Celebrity glamor or porn).

When our emotions are influenced in manners like this, it frequently makes its way visible in our actions and reaction to certain situations and people. Then there come the risks it poses to our mental health. 

What we need, is to become aware of how the flicks we watch influence our emotions, thoughts, and actions.


Because nothing can eliminate the Golden age of television. Our worse and the best-case scenario would be a continuous expansion in the industries responsible. The only option we are left with would be Filtering (aka Attention Diet).

Attention Diet; [The Paradox Of Choice – Why More Is Less]

Filtering the quality and quantity of what we feed our eyes is Attention Diet.

But with the proliferation and expansion of these technologies, you might ask, how can we pull this off?

You see, about 5 years ago I read a book by Barry Schwartz, “PARADOX OF CHOICE – why more is less”. It argued that abundance causes making a choice difficult – a theory gained through many market surveys of customers’ behaviors.

To our benefit, the book offered some insight on how to filter out extraneous options (in this case, low-value visual contents).

We shall adopt and employ the advice given in the book – in a series of steps – because of its effectiveness and logical sense in this Filtering process (i.e. Attention Diet)

How To Start Attention Diet; [How To Apply Filtering To Your Consumption Of Visual Contents]

Making a good choice is painfully difficult, and most decision-making process runs through so many complex dynamics. And just like a regular “diet plan”, “Attention diet” can also be quite demanding.

According to Barry Schwartz, most good decisions will involve the following steps – which I have modified to fit into the picture of our subject.  

  • 1. Figure out your goal(s) and Values.
  • 2. Examine the importance of the visual content to your goal(s) and Values.
  • 3. Sort the option according to their degree of perceived importance (that is, according to your preferences)
  • 4. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to help you meet your goals.
  • 5. Pick the top option(s)
  • 6. Afterward, use the outcome of your choice (i.e. if they helped or impeded your goals or values) to modify the next choices.

This could be deciding between watching a series of 15 seconds Reels on Instagram teaching you about writing, getting on Youtube to see a 2 hours video on it or paying for a Full course and Mentorship. It could also be as simple as picking to watch a documentary on the development and advancement of computers rather than a 30 mins clip showing you the coolest gadgets that exist today.

This works for most people, but if you feel you have a suitable and more comfortable approach to this process, use it – the goal is to be in control of what and how much of it you watch.

Whatever happens, the obvious is that Netflix, HBO, YouTube videos, Tik Tok, the internet as a whole, would pretty much have a longer life span than any of us would. Given this fact, would you opt to cling to the couch filling your eyes with contents that add Zero value to you – wasting away most of your limited time – or would you choose the contents suitable for your growth and development – contents that would make you productive, wiser, and happier in the long run?

So, my friend, my questions are, “what are you watching?” and, “Do you need attention diet?”

A mindful self-help writer and photographer

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