I am going to do an upcoming post about why I have transitioned away from social media, but this post will be my first Wednesday Wisdom post on my blog here. I had been posting a Wednesday Wisdom weekly on my Instagram feed, but I have decided to shift those posts to here. This is a powerful quote that is at the beginning of this excellent book I have just started to read, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher.
This is a profound and simple message from the 'Father' of American Psychologist and Harvard Professor William James. The amount of stimuli, and things to focus on in your environment is essentially limitless. It is impossible for you to pay attention to everything. If your brain didn't actively filter our experience of reality it would be very difficult for you to function. This is the basis of a 'bad trip' when someone is trying LSD or other hallucinogens as they tend to inhibit the attentional brakes that are usually working all the time in your brain.
Therefore, since we never are focusing on everything, your perception of reality is inherently biased and subjective. That is why individuals can seem to disagree or act in complete opposite fashions, despite what seems like the exact same scenario. An example that pops into my mind about this is while watching the NBA playoffs, players are clearly committing a foul but they are adamant and express their displeasure about the call to the referee quite demonstratively. Video replay provides objective evidence they may be incorrect but even in the face of this contradictory evidence many of these athletes are very reluctant to admit they were wrong.
However, you can leverage this to your advantage since your focus is one of few things you do control, and has a dramatic effect on your well being and peace of mind. It is clear that the famous, athletically or intellectually gifted, or the rich are no happier than 'normal' folks, and sometimes even less happier.
So what is the foundation of happiness and well-being? Appropriate and judicious management of your attention system. I have discussed in a previous blog post (Read More: What You Can Learn from Thanksgiving to Make Yourself Smarter and Happier) about the benefits of gratitude on your health and happiness and it is based on this concept William James so beautiful captures in his quote above. So if you want to be happy and enjoy a deep sense of peace, learning to manage your attention is key.
However, just as powerful as it can be, it can be equally hard to apply. This is the 'secret' of life, figuring out how to close what I call the 'action gap.' A lot of times we know what the right thing to do is, but it is infinitely harder to execute the right action. How have I begun to implement the wisdom from William James?
The key is rituals and habits. You cannot just wait until you feel stressed or unhappy to re route your attention. You need to develop and refine your ability to manage your attention so that when you redirect it you have the ability to do so. It is akin to studying. You can't just loaf around all semester and then hope to cram all the knowledge in the day before the exam. Therefore to apply this information I meditate every day (check out the video below to learn how to make meditation a daily habit), spend as much mindful time in nature, and I have reminders (through headspace or my belly breathe wrist bands) to bring myself back to the present moment.
These are just strategies that have worked for me, but I implore you to find time to explore your passions that cause you to pay rapt attention and lose yourself in the moment. We all, myself included, spend too much time on our smart phones and social media, and we have the lost the invaluable ability to manage our attention appropriately. Take time for yourself, whether that be meditation, a relaxing warm bath, or reading your favourite book to retrain your attention 'muscles' so you can call on them when you need them.RSS Feed
- Your point of focus instead of the external environment has a much bigger impact on your happiness and peace of mind
- Managing your attention is a skill that needs to be refined if we hope to be able to lean on it in times of need
- Your Attention 'Muscles' can be developed in many ways including meditation, spending time in nature or any favourite pastime activity that requires your rapt attention
If you can’t sustain it, it’s not worth it.
I am a medical student who is obsessed with the Be Activated Muscle Activation Technique, mastering movement and understanding what makes humans thrive.