The practice is simply this: pause to consider what you’d like to focus on.~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/everchange/
I’m great at focusing, but am weaker at intentionally choosing what I’m focusing on. I’ve no idea when I realized I was weaker at the latter point. While it’s clear I have a lot of habits and behaviors which work well to help me deal with the weakness, I cannot recall if those developed simply by trial and error.
One habit which works well to avoid disaster is dump it out of my brain into an outline. An emergency spillway prevents complete failure of a dam, but if water ever goes over the emergency spillway, something is terribly wrong. That’s me and brain-dump outlining. I flip my 40-minute sand timer and start a fresh outline, saving it to my computer desktop. (Aside: There is never anything on my computer desktop.) As I’m outlining, panic often nips at my heels. Eventually, I get most everything down. I find long strings of knock-down-doable domino tasks. And I usually find at least one Big Question buried in there.
And then I close the document. It’s cathartic. It’s as if, having written it down, it’s in some sense done.
Information competes for our conscious attention: the web of thoughts with the greatest activation is usually the one where we direct our attention. The calmer our mind, the fewer thoughts we generate in response to what happens in the world—and the greater the odds that intuition will speak to us.~ Chris Bailey from, https://alifeofproductivity.com/the-science-of-how-to-get-intuition-to-speak-to-you/
I’m not sure if I truly remember the following story, or if I simply heard it told so many times and subsequently retold it so many times that I believe I saw it first hand, but here it is in first person regardless.
Sitting in an enormous church service early one morning, two parents down front where having increasing difficulty with a precocious young child. With each noise, question, request, and pew kicking, the parents were taking turns playing the, “If you don’t be quiet…” game. The massive church was known by all to have a well-appointed “cry room” at the back complete with a view of the proceedings, amplified reproduction of the goings on, double-pane and mostly scream proof windows, games, rocking chairs and so forth. Meanwhile, in the main hall, everyone could hear the “if you don’t be quiet…” game escalate to defcon 5: “If you don’t be quiet, I’m taking you to the cry room.” The opposing forces countered with a volley of indignation at being forced to… “That’s it!” And the patriarch hoisted the youngster and performed the mandatory “excuse me pardon me excuse me…” incantation across the pew, and started up the aisle with a writhing 3-year-old in Sunday’s best. From the moment of hoisting, the winding-up siren of shock and horror got up to speed until said child was screaming. “I’LL BE QUIET! I’LL BE QUIET!!” The minister had paused, as the father strode briskly for the doors at the back. Hundreds of people sat silently as they passed through rear doors—the child’s screaming dropping instantly in volume as the door swung shut. “I’LL BE QUIET! I’LL BE QUIET! …i’ll be quiet!” At which point, as far as I could tell, everyone collectively giggled at the humor of it all.
While one part of my mind wants to be touring the facility and taking up slack, the petulant child is not to be taken on by main force. When it’s in the mood, the child part can be a source of great power and inspiration. (Apropos, the quote sticking up from the Little Box today reads: “Genius is the power of carrying the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge) The inner-child mind has its own agenda and demands its outlets too.
Cognitive load matters. Mullainathan and Shafir believe that scarcity imposes a similar mental tax, impairing our ability to perform well, and exercise self-control.~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2013/12/scarcity-why-having-too-little-means-so-much/
Short of food: starving. Short of water: dehydration. Short of money: in debt. Short of time: over-committed. Short of attention: distracted, mindless. But also, short of outlets for creativity? Short of satisfaction? Short of peace? Short of meaning?
These distractions aren’t just unproductive, they’re anti-productive. They create more work than they replace.~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/attention-diet
I wish I had learned much sooner the idea that distractions aren’t just wasting the time spent on the distraction, but are in fact decreasing the value of the time I do try to spend on anything focused and productive. Alas, it took me decades of experimenting to deeply understand it for myself before I could truly learn the lesson. Manson’s article is, as usual, irreverent and explicit—but it has some terrific points in it about how to go about crafting an attention “diet” to take back your mind.
My mind does need a lot of down-time and relaxation. But none of that looks like distraction. I deeply love sitting down to some great science-fiction movie with popcorn. I also deeply love me some burly physical work where my mind can press the “body: do things” button and then wander out of the control room for a snooze on the terrace. (I imagine Homer Simpson’s sipping-bird left in the control room; but mine’s pressing the, “continue hard labor,” button rather than his nuclear reactor alarm reset.)
Unlike money, everyone is ultimately on a level playing field when it comes to time. We all get the same allowance of twenty-four hours a day. Just as there are ineffective ways of investing your money, there are ineffective ways of investing your time.
If we all have the same amount of this essential resource, why do some people achieve so much, and others so little? Where we start from — in terms of economic class, skills and education — certainly has something to do with it, but there are just as many riches-to-rags stories as there are rags-to-riches stories, so obviously there is another factor at play here.~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2009/03/the-only-resource-more-precious-than-time/
I found the realization that it’s really my attention that is my limiiting resource to be both liberating and scary. Liberating because it means that all I need to do is focus my attention and long-term success is within my grasp. Applying my attention, even in short stretches, inevitably leads to progress on my favorite projects. And scary because every time I’m tired, run-down, don’t want to do something– every time, food or the Movie-monster call my name, entertainment or distraction– there are so many opportunities for me to turn my attention away from the things I find valuable.