Give yourself the First Hour
Resisting Capitalism and the attention economy
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” - Mary Oliver
“Whatever we place at the center of our lives will get the bulk of our care and attention. This is not esoteric teaching, but simple physics. If we love our children more than anything, they will get the best of our attention. If we love success, our career will get the majority of our time. If we love money, we will spend the greater portion of our care and worry on the accumulation of wealth.”- Wayne Muller
Your attention determines your experience of life. So the question for this week is: What are you paying attention to? Who are you giving it to, without realizing?
Resisting Capitalism and the attention economy
The average American spends over 11 hours a day looking at a screen. Americans check their phones on average once every 12 minutes, about 80 times a day. Of the 2,000 people surveyed, one in 10 check their phones on average once every four minutes.
"Anyone who acts without paying attention to what he is doing is wasting their life. I'd go so far as to say life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece." - Music teacher and conductor Nadia Boulanger
To understand anything about capitalism, you have to understand that the entire system is designed to narrow our consciousness so we focus our lives on buying things. Technologist Nir Eyal talks about how technology is used to manufacture desire.
Notice that Eyal is talking about the need to manufacture desire, where none existed before. In capitalism, we need to create systems to produce, invent, and fabricate desire at a large scale, Eyal says to sell products, companies need to create a need to sell the remedy. But to create a need you need to create pain. And the pain is rooted biologically, in a dopamine response loop:
The goal of almost every website or app in an “attention economy,” is to do whatever is takes to keep you looking at it in order to sell more ads. “Their aim is to maximize screen time,” says Tristan Harris, design ethics and former product “philosopher” at Google. “They have to maximize it–by shareholder obligation, if their business is attention,” he says. Meditation apps, educational news sites, and Facebook, he says–“everyone is playing the same game.”
Think your attention isn’t big business? The market value of four of the five biggest companies in the world1: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), and Amazon, are based on creating the addictive dopamine response loop. Tech writer Nir Eyal says, “the fact that we have greater access to the web through our various devices also gives companies greater access to us. As companies combine this greater access with the ability to collect and process our data at higher speeds than ever before, we’re faced with a future where everything becomes more addictive. This trinity of access, data, and speed creates new opportunities for habit-forming technologies to hook users.”
So much about this newsletter is about internal freedom, a liberation that goes beyond financial independence and more to an inner liberation. And you can’t really be free if you don’t prize your own attention.
“The dictatorships of tomorrow will deprive men of their freedom, but will give them in exchange a happiness none the less real, as a subjective experience, for being chemically induced. The pursuit of happiness is one of the traditional rights of man; unfortunately, the achievement of happiness may turn out to be incompatible with another of man’s rights — namely, liberty.”
— Aldous Huxley
Prescription: Give yourself the First Hour
“What you see is what you are. There is a symbiosis between the mind and heart of the seer and what they pay attention to.” - Richard Rohr
Here’s my prescription to the attentional dis-ease we all suffer from in capitalism: Spend time outside the demands of everyone and everything else. Have one hour in the morning that is solely yours. Before you read the news, look at your phone, or read your email, just be no one/yourself. Before anyone else gets your attention, luxuriate in an hour of time before anyone else knows you exist. Delight in your own enoughness.
I call it First Hour. It’s yours. Do with it what you will. Writers will write. Runners will run. Some will pray. Some will make love. But that First Hour is yours. Treat it with respect, treat yourself with respect. This time is precious. Don’t give it to anyone else.2
My First Hour
“We can’t enchant the world, which makes its own magic; but we can enchant ourselves by paying deep attention.” - Diane Ackerman
My mentor Terces Engelhart asked me last year, “What is the experience you’re committed to having?” The experience I committed to was gratefulness. So my First Hour is gratefulness too. I take a full hour to get out of bed. Before I do anything else, I think about my day and say a prayer of gratitude for what’s to come and for each person on my calendar on that day. A prayer for my dog. For my home. For what I will receive that day.
At breakfast, I sit without a device and have an itakimasu practice: humbly receiving the food coming into me, and all the people and natural world that gave it to me.
Attention is the doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder, the doorway to reciprocity… While expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition - Robin Wall Kimmerer
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement [to] get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” - Abraham Heschel
That’s my time to be radically amazed. It’s the space I’ve carved out before the news, the phone, or the job starts demanding my attention. My time to be set my intentions, my attention. I give myself the First Hour for this, this gift, before I start giving my hours to anyone else.
This is self-attunement. This is attentional hygiene. It will feel good.
The other is a Saudi Arabian oil company. Meta (Facebook/Instagram) is the 10th largest.
Don’t think you can do it because you’re too busy? Yet plenty of people do it, including the Dalai Lama. It’s a question of priorities. In Financial Freedom 1 we call it Pay Yourself First. You send money into your nest egg before you pay anything or anyone else: rent, groceries, bills, etc.. Get the first two chapters of Profit First for free to get an idea of how it works.
Once you get used to giving yourself the first hour, you realize that you’ve been prioritizing everyone else’s demands before your own.