Over the next few weeks I want to look at various angles of something I think is very important.
I’ll talk a bit about the science and psychology of attention but mostly about how we focus or refocus it.
So pay attention.
That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? “Pay attention.” It frames as a cost, something we “pay” — which is a great picture of how attention works, as we will see soon.
First though, let’s look at the science of attention. We know that it’s limited (which fits with the idea of attention as a cost). We only have so much attention at any point in time, beyond which we can’t give any more. That’s why if you’re driving on a road you know well, you can easily give your attention to a conversation with a friend in the seat beside you — but if you run into a tricky road situation, you’ll go quiet: suddenly the road demands more of your attention and you have to stop your convo and pay attention to the road instead.
It’s also why we often want people to not be looking at their phones when we want to say really important stuff: we want their full attention, we want them to pay us ask the attention they have, and not give us what’s left over from the other thing they’re attending to. (Of course if we demand this payment too often, they end up feeling drained, don’t they?)
A third example: are you paying attention right now to these words? Only you can answer that, of course, but I think it’s a good way to think about your attention right now. How much of it is on this letter? If you’re like most people, it’s probably half or less. (It’s okay, I’m not offended) 😃 What else are you attending to? A chat on WhatsApp? Twitter? Work? A face-to-face convo? Reply with your answer, it’ll be interesting to see. (Mine is I’ve got music playing as I write this, but I’m not really paying attention to it — but on a level I’m aware of the words, so there’s definitely some attention going there.)
All of this is to show how attention works in our everyday. And maybe to help you think a bit about how you pay it over the course of this week.
But if we agree attention is something we pay, then like any good market goer, there’s a few important questions to think about, aren’t there?
what do we pay with?
how much of it are we paying?
do we have enough left over after paying?
what do we get in return?
is it a good bargain?
I’ll be looking at these questions next, and there’s a lot to unpack with each, with implications for how we can live our lives with richer meaning.
But for today I’d like you to think about how would you answer these questions, and are you happy with those answers?
P.S. I’m considering switching up to Monday and Thursday emails, instead of Tuesday and Friday. Thoughts?