Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RAPT Attention and the Focused Life

Winifred Gallagher THE PENGUIN PRESS New York 2009.

There is so much that "hit me" with this book, I will be excerpting portions for several days, I imagine.

I do not recommend books (or movies, events) and so forth. My experience is that people's "tastes" are so different as to make it pointless - and, in the past I've had resources recommended to me so highly that, they proved a waste and disappointment likely from having been over-sold.

For me, this book was trans-formation-al.

Excerpt - pg 12- 13

. . . the difference between "passing the time" and "time well spent" depends on making smart decisions about what to attend to in matters large and small, then doing so as if your life depended on it. As far as its quality is concerned, it does.

Abundant research shows that most of the rich and famous, brainy and beautiful are little or no happier than individuals of ordinary means and gifts, because no matter who you are, your joie de vivre mostly derives from paying attention to someone or something that interests you.

It's all too easy to spend much of your life in such an unfocused, mixed-up condition, rushing toward the chimera of a better time and place to tune in and, well, be alive. It's the fashion to blame the Internet and computers, cell phones and cable TV for this diffused, fragmented state of mind, but our seductive machines are not at fault.

The real problem is that we don't appreciate our own ability to use attention to select and create truly satisfying experience. Instead of exercising this potential, we too often take the lazy way out, settle for less, and squander our mental money and precious time on whatever captures our awareness willy-nilly, no matter how disappointing the consequences.

Where the quality of your life is concerned, focus is not everything, but it is a great deal. The question is: If all the world's a stage, as Shakespeare puts it, where do you shine the spotlight of your attention?

THIS BOOK FOLLOWS a loose time line of paying attention over fractions of seconds to moments, days, weeks, months, years, and even a whole life. First, we'll look at some basic operating principles that apply whenever you become aware of something in your world—a changing traffic signal, a sudden stab of jealousy—focus on it, and prepare to respond. Next, we'll explore the two-way relationship between how you feel and what you attend to. We'll consider different styles of paying attention, which are as unique as fingerprints, and the evidence that just as who you are affects how you focus, what you focus on affects who you are. Then we'll consider attention's role in major aspects of life, including learning, memory, emotion, relationships, work, decision-making, and creativity. After looking at some normal attentional glitches and more serious problems, we'll take the long view and examine the role of focus in motivation, health, and the quest for life's meaning.

Five years of reporting on attention have confirmed some home truths. "The idle mind is the devil's workshop" conveys the fact that when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what's right, putting you in a bad frame of mind. As "look for the silver lining" suggests, focusing on the productive aspects of difficult situations does indeed lead to a more satisfying experience.

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