WHY STUDY ATTENTION?
We are in a Crisis of Attention
“Besides the benefits that improved management of attention brings to the individual, several social critics and philosophers argue that our society’s decreasing attention is leading us to a new ‘cultural dark age’ in which individuals no longer have the deep, sustained focus necessary for synthesizing and assessing information or expressing complex thoughts. Instead, we live in a world of ‘Present Shock’ in which everything happens now, information is conveyed via memes and tweets, and we no longer have the skill or wisdom to separate the signal from the noise. One could argue that the crises and general malaise we’ve experienced in the West during the past thirty years is, at its core, a crisis of attention. We’re either paying attention to the wrong problems or too distracted by the next “controversy” to solve the issues at hand. Bottom line: If you want to improve yourself and the world around you, the first step is to learn how to harness your attention. It’s the locomotive of human progress.” — Art of Manliness
PAYING ATTENTION TO ATTENTION
In the following practices, you will observe and evaluate your own attention patterns to understand where you are putting your attention, both intentionally and unintentionally, throughout your moments, hours, days…well… your life.
By auditing your attention—playing with it and exercising its various forms, deliberately, using the activities below, you will build your attention “muscle” which will help you be a more conscious learner so you can know yourself better.
Sit still for a hot minute.
“Meditate” for 2-4 minutes or as long as you want. Focus your attention (selective attention) on your breath going in through the nose and out through the nose. Notice only that. If your attention shifts elsewhere, perhaps to your chest or to the noises in the room, or your feet, or an itch; if it shifts to thinking, or your mind wanders to the past or the future, just notice. Try to bring your attention back to the breath. (It helps to sit up straight or lie down if you want to– it doesn’t matter so much, especially if this is new to you. When people try to “do it the right way” when it comes to meditation, they usually just focus on outcomes rather than the process itself, just the trying. The trying and failing IS THE THING. If you are trying and failing– you’re doing everything perfectly!
AN IMPORTANT NOTE
If any of this causes feelings– anxiety, fatigue, hyper-arousal, sadness, muscular tension…whatever, just notice. Stop if you get to a point where you feel overwhelmed. Do what you need to to calm down. Later, when you are in an even space, reflect on the experience and write about it. Each time you attend to your attention, your experience may vary! You are different each time you try. People vary in the ways they react and respond to paying attention to attention— it only matters that you TRY it and later reflect and record what happens. NO RIGHT OR WRONG; NO JUDGMENT. JUST OBSERVATION TO LEARN.
Reflect, in writing, on your experience paying attention to your attention in step one above. Describe, in detail, exactly what happened with your attention. Don’t just reflect— Write about it! Did your attention remain focused on the breath coming in and out of your nose? Did it wander? Where did your attention shift towards? How many times did it shift and change?
NOTICE and write about: Did you judge your “performance?” Did you get frustrated or disappointed when your attention fell away from the breath? Or did you remain neutral when your attention shifted? WHATEVER YOU EXPERIENCED (THOUGHT, FELT, BEHAVED) JUST WRITE IT DOWN. THIS IS THE PROCESS AND YOU MUST TRUST THAT JUST BY DOING THIS, YOU WILL LEARN AND GROW.
Reflect on this process of noticing your own attention. Free write about your attention, judgment, and the difference between the two. Any other thoughts related to this activity are welcome! This is your personal learning, so you can write about whatever you want for as long as you want. Even if you are frustrated, angry, confused, unsure of yourself, or think this self-study is a waste of time, write about it because this will help you understand the nature of your relationship to your attention (which is really just how you relate to yourself and your experiences in the present moment)!
If you made it this far….you’re building courage AND focus!
Good for you!
NO…LITERALLY— These things are good for your body and mind.
FOR THE ENTIRE COURSE ON ATTENTION!