Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Tag: attention

Do Not Focus on The Self

 While it may seem contradictory for me as a practicing psychologist to invoke this paradox, this is perhaps an elemental idea we need to learn to embrace. 

Many self-help books promote the development of the self. However, an over-emphasis on the self is a wellspring of suffering. 

Instead, focus on two things:
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Point Your Camera to the World

In fact, tape away the self-pointing lens.

Change the focus from the Self and to the World, and then let the world teach you.

As writer John O’Donohue notes,

Love begins with paying attention to others, with an act of gracious self-forgetting. This is the condition in which we grow.
(From Anam Cara, p. 28).

When we take pictures of ourselves, our cognitive resources are channelled towards ourselves. The big trade-off when we become self-absorbed, we miss opportunities for what the world can teach us.

In virtual video meetings, once you’ve checked you are in the frame, it pays off to turn off the self-view. It is cognitively taxing to see yourself when you are supposed to pay attention to the other, as you would in face to face conversations.

Take pictures or videos of the world outside, and–is is the important bit–pay attention.

Take this as a metaphor to live by. Pay attention to the people and the world outside, and the make the picture good.

Look Outside of Yourself

As a modern species, I wonder if we have become explainaholics. We start to theorise, analyse, and explain things away, and thus become detached from a lived and engaged reality. (I talked more about the phenomena on becoming an “explainaholic” in my other blog site, Frontiers of Psychotherapist Development.)

Particularly, there is a danger of that happening in what I do as a psychotherapist, which can sometimes slip into an over-focus “interiorising.”

Here’s what depth psychologist James Hillman recommends why we need to look outside of ourselves:

Say you pass a homeless man on the street and you share that with your therapist. Your therapist says to you that you feel for this man because it resonates with the homeless part of you. By the time you make that reflection, by the time you have interiorised, you have passed the homeless man on the street… you lose the emotions to the world by interiorising.

There are inner conflict and wounds that need tending to on the inside that is not visible to others, but I would argue we must not stop them. Life is outside waiting for us to be engaged with. To learn, to love, to have our hearts broken, and mended back. To create, to relate. To make blunders, and to rediscover ourselves. 

 

In his new book, Life’s Great Questions, the author Tom Rath shares a speech made by a young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

 “Life’s most persistent and urgent question…

What are you doing for others?”

 

MLK was only 29 years old at that time.  Rath goes on, “Yet it is easy to see how, in the remaining decade of his life, Dr. King dedicated almost all of his time to answering this question. In doing so, he showed us how orienting your efforts outward creates perpetual growth for generations to come.”

 

Maybe we need to flip things around:

 


Image of Fremantle, WA by Charlene Nguyen 

Time Management vs. Attention Management

We are in desperate need of attention management. Not of others, but of our own. Corporate society thrives at captivating our attention. In many sense, your attention has more currency that money.

Maybe it’s not time that we have to manage directly. Time moves at a constant, regardless of our approval. Time is experienced differently depending on how you navigate this moving terrain.

It’s not time management that we need, but attention management.

Mindfulness has been all the rage in this period of writing. This has been associated with the notion of “being present.” Yet, intention precludes attention. We can only enter the cracks of mindfulness through the seeds of our intention. In another way of putting it, our intentions can only take shape when we do a bit of “time travel” into our future, so that paradoxically, we can eb more present.

The closer we live our lives based on our intentions, the better well spent our time is, the better our wellbeing.

This calls for a form of intentional living. Not going through life “by default,” but “by design.” A design that is shaped by your choices, within the constraints of givens and circumstances.

Design is not just for aesthetic, “beautification or prettification” reasons. Designing something is to cultivate an environment that is conducive for our intentions to flourish.

Our experience of life is truly where our attention is. If left to a default mode, our attention is compelled to act like a suspectible scatter-brain, easily sucked into the cesspool of clickbaits, autoplay videos, and algorithmic “recommendations.”

We need to take the steering wheel. We need to craft, redirect and steer our senses towards where we want to go.

Why bother with such deliberation? Because that is where you will be. Our attention leads us moment by moment into a personal future, and you are the only one who will experience this one life.

Pay Attention?

Protect your attention the way you protect your money. Because unlike money, when time gets robbed it cannot be retrieved.

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” ~ Decision making scientist, Herbert Simon.

In the endless flow of information streaming at us and social media platforms designed to mimic casino slot machines, attempting to hook us in with more dopamine-driven feedback loops, not only our attention gets robbed, our intentions gets screwed over.

And in order to live intentionally, this doesn’t happen by default. This happens by design.

Be intentional on what you attend to.

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