Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My notes from Rapt
[Disclaimer: The notes below are rough, and may be a mixture of direct quotes, paraphrasing, and my own thoughts/ideas/reminders. They’re written here primarily for me (so they may not make much sense out of context, especially for those who haven’t read the book)].
(10) That little piece of reality that you tune in on is literally and figuratively far sketchier and more subjective than you assume.
Top-down attention (conscious choice) vs Bottom-up attention (biased toward most salient thing/signal). Competition for attention.
(18) Drawback of sharpening focus on a target = shrinking larger experience. FOCUS EXPERIENCE.
(28) To enjoy the kind of experience you want rather than enduring the kind that you feel stuck with, you have to take charge of your attention.
(31) Main advantage of paying attention to an unhappy emotion is that it attunes you to a potential threat or loss and pressures you to avoid or relieve the pain by solving the associated problem.
(35) Carl Jung – ‘There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course, Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.’
Paying attention to positive emotions literally expands you world, while focusing on negative feelings shrinks it.
(36) When you feel frightened, angry or sad reality contracts until whatever is upsetting you takes up your whole world. Bad feelings – shrink focus. In a potentially ominous situation, homing in and reacting to trouble is more important than taking time to get the big picture. Good feelings – widen focus. Expand into new territory. Think more flexibly and creatively.
(38) Reactive, behavioural and reflective elements of the brain. Conflict when two or more of these networks insist you focus on different things.
(50) Older people – increased skill in focusing on things that foster feelings of contentment. William James – wisdom is ‘the art of knowing what to overlook’.
(52) Directing attention away from negative experiences can be a superior coping strategy.
(53) Treat your mind as a private garden – being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.
(67) Who you are affects what attracts your attention, but what you focus on also affects who you are.
(85) When employees focus on how their efforts affect other people, rather than just on the details of their tasks, their sense of relationship boosts both their satisfaction and productivity.
(88-89) Approaches to / importance of dinner time. In a perfect world – parents would focus everyone on nonconfrontational conversation. They’d encourage anyone so inclined to raise a topic and invite feedback, and be able to accept ‘just listening’.
(91-93) When you live with someone it’s easy to assume you share the same reality. Story about couple having pre-marriage counselling during a hot summer. She – ‘Things have changed, we barely have sex anymore’. He – ‘I thought we weren’t having sex because the airconditioner is broken’.
(96) Happy couples – resolute focus on the positive.
(98) Relationships – must commit to effort of seeing that person’s often very different world.
(101) Nicholas Hobbs (mid 20th century psychologist) – way to ensure calm but heightened attention to the matter at hand is to choose activities that push you so close to the edge of your competence that the demand your absolute focus. Select projects that are just manageable. Too easy – lose focus and get bored. Too hard – become anxious, overwhelmed and unable to concentrate.
(106) Happiness is a later reflection of flow, rather than the result of the experience at the time.
(107) Turning chores into play.
(108) Deciding what to do with leisure time – avoid the temporal equivalent of junk food.
(109) Antidote to leisure-time ennui is to pay as much attention to scheduling a productive evening or weekend as you do your workday.
(110) Set goals that are fun but also stretch you in some way.
(118-119) How you experience your lie is what you think about your life. There is a gap between your real life and the stories you tell yourself about it. Experiencing vs remembering self.
(127) Attentional conflict. When you first think about a long-term project you focus on the goal and barely consider the matter of how you’ll get to that point – why we over commit ourselves.
(151-155) Problems with multitasking.
(158) Brain Fitness program – effort builds and strengthens neural pathways.
(159) Breath focused mindfulness meditation.
(161) Energy flows where attention goes.
(178) Grit – involves motivation and perseverance in pursuit of goal, but also maintaining consistent interest in a project or idea over time.
(181) Life is relatively short, so don’t labor under the delusion that you can keep switching your focus from goal to goal and get anywhere.
(183) Practice/rehearse in your head how you’ll react ahead of time – when trying to stick to a goal and faced with a difficult/stressful situation (giving a speech/attending a banquet when you’re dieting).
(184) Conflict between voices. Temporarily but strongly inclined to pay attention and choose the behaviour that brings the quickest rewards.
(189) Life is a creation rather than a reaction.
(205) William James – ‘I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing’.
(213) Working on being a better person. “Wouldn’t it be great if instead of just working out at the gym, we’d go off and focus on doing something that makes us better people.”
(215) You see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.
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