This bookish weapon is a potent one. It is an older book, written in 2009, but even more relevant today. It is called “Rapt.,” by Winifred Gallagher.
With everyone on their smartphones this book will be a welcome tool for you to help yourself focus and as Gallagher says, “…your life-who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love-is the sum of what you focus on.” And, “In contrast, the things that you don’t attend to in a sense don’t exist, at least not for you.”
There is so much talk of happiness. How do we achieve it? Can it even be a goal or should it be? Gallagher says, “…you cannot always be happy, but you can almost always be focused, which is the next best thing.”
She defines the book’s title by saying it means, “completely absorbed, engrossed, fascinated, perhaps even “carried away.” It is important to choose your “targets” for your focus. She says that your decision is critical. “Deciding what to pay attention to for this hour, day, week, or yer, much less a lifetime, is a peculiarly human predicament, and your quality of life largely depends on how you handle it.”
Gallagher says,”..when you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right…” and I think it is largely because we are always looking for the threats to us.
How do our feelings affect our focus? There is a whole chapter in the book and it is entitled, “Inside Out: Feelings Frame Focus.” As recent studies confirm we are drawn to the negative. You have heard of ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts? Gallagher puts it this way, “…we pay more attention to unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, and sadness because they’re simply more powerful than the agreeable sort.” From what I have read elsewhere this is because our reptilian brain is trying to recognize a threat and keep us alive. Do you question this? Well, you will be interested to know a little fact about your birthday. She says, Here is the icing on the cake: on your birthday, you’re up to 20 percent more likely to have a heart attack, perhaps prompted by fears of aging or disappointed hopes.”
However, there is good news. “Paying attention to positive emotions literally expands your world, while focusing on negative feelings shrink it.” So focus on the positive. “When you feel frightened, angry, or sad, reality contracts until whatever is upsetting you takes up the whole world – at least the one between your ears.” Understanding this really helps you prepare for the fight.
What do young people focus on vs what old people focus on? This was interesting. She says young folks focus on the future and new experiences and old people “emotional satisfaction in the here and now.” She quotes psychologist Laura Carstensen who says, “Age does not entail the relentless pursuit of happiness, but rather the satisfaction of emotionally meaningful goals, which involves far more than simply “feeling good.” I would say, I suppose so, but I like new experiences and adventures still. I am probably the odd old person or just not as mature as most of my peers. However, many older people think they know it all and they close their minds to new ideas.
She says we pay attention to the wrong things during the decision making process. Focusing on the easy way instead of considering second and third level consequences. “Our thinking gets befuddled not so much by our emotions as by our “cognitive illusions” or mistaken intuitions, and other flawed, fragmented mental constructs.” She quotes Daniel Kahneman frequently. In reference to a financial situation he says, “If you focus too much on each issue separately, considering each loss and gain in isolation, you make mistakes.”
You have two selves. One is the “experiencing self” which focuses on the present. Then you have an evaluative “remembering self” that looks back on the experience. This second self is relying on memory which is not so reliable. That messes us up. Kahneman says, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it, Why? “Because you are thinking about it.” The bold is mine.
Just like focusing too much on your memories to help you make decisions, the effects of adaptation (getting used to a situation) impacts our decisions. You are used to a job and forget the good things about it because it has become routine. So you quit and go somewhere else only to find out you had it pretty good in the other job but had gotten used to it. Kahneman puts it this way, “Forgetting that you’ll eventually stop paying attention to a new thing can skew not just big decisions about the future, but also the small ones that quietly but profoundly affect your present well being.”
Easy as flipping a pancake or a myth? She says, “…multitasking for most piratical purposes is a myth, and that heeding its siren call leads to inefficiency and even danger.” Amen to that!
Sometimes if you are used to doing many things at once and have done so for years you may just not realize the impact it has on you. “…there’s a risk: if you grow up assuming you can pay attention to several things at once, you may not realize that the way in which you process such information is superficial at best…and stunted your capacity for serious thought.”
There s a great section about diet and how the right focus can help you and much more so as always, get the book.