How I Spend My Attention

What you pay attention to becomes your life.

I am Kenta. I share my learnings on improving the quality of experience through this newsletter.


I have been reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He examines the psychology of flow experience in detail in this book. This paragraph explains the relationship between attention and everything else.

Because attention determines what will or will not appear in consciousness, and because it is also required to make any other mental events—such as remembering, thinking, feeling, and making decisions—happen there, it is useful to think of it as psychic energy.

Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we invest this energy. Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we please; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.

Examining my life with the measurement of attention tells me who I am. Checking how much time I spend doing things I do in life is one way to see how much attention I am giving to each of them.

It sounds so obvious, but if you spend more time thinking about your career or spend a lot of time at work, you would become a career-oriented person.

This, of course, goes the other way around. If you are already that type of person, you're more likely to care about your job than other things. This cycle develops our tendencies and shapes our characters.

The more you pay attention to one thing over another, the more it takes to change the tendency. However, it never becomes impossible to look at the other directions.

The amount of time I invest in different things is an indicator of what my life is made of.

Similarly, when I try to pay more attention to the good in others, I would be able to enjoy the camaraderie of them more. Trying to be nice makes me nicer.

This could be incredibly more difficult because our brains have what scientists call ‘negativity bias’. This bias makes us find bad qualities in others rather than good ones. So, you would need an extra, deliberate effort when trying to think and act positively. Knowing this makes me realize how much of what we are inclined to feel doesn’t have to be true.

Another dimension to attention that's not tied with time is the depth of attention.

By default, it's hard to be the attention giver when the activity is not participatory. I could spend all day watching YouTube videos without genuinely paying any attention to them.

In contrast, doing activities that require the investment of your attention tends to be more satisfying.

The hard mode is trying to feel joy passively scrolling my social media feed. However, this doesn't make me quit using social media because many things just awe me or make me think on the internet. Those are the things that grab my attention and turn into real experiences.

The point is whether or not it's my choice to pick up my phone. If I am grabbing it out of my pocket unconsciously, I am using it on autopilot and not paying any deliberate attention.

My phone probably is the easiest tool to distract myself from all the other things that bother me that are often important.

Everything has to be a choice, or else it’s a form of addiction. I always want to 'choose' to use my phone because otherwise, it might be equivalent to doing nothing.

When you pay absolutely zero attention to an experience, did the experience even happen?

Everyone hates the feeling of having wasted their time doing nothing. But, even when I am doing many things in a day, when I am on autopilot, which is to say doing something for the sake of just completing them, I don't feel fulfilled. This makes total sense because the day wasn't filled with any intentionality. There was no mind.

If I am unconscious of my experiences, how is it different from when I am sleeping or dreaming?

One way for me to counter this is to slow down. Slowing down allows you to examine your internal state and fosters better channeling of your attention.

On the other hand, even when I am doing dishes, I find it possible to pay more attention to little things like the sensation of touching the water.

The experience of drinking your favorite wine could also be augmented by trying to taste every drop of it with your taste buds.

You can have more experiences in life by simply paying more attention. What you pay attention to is going to be your life. It's so basic that it hits me.

Thank you for reading this edition of me taking my life too seriously.

I am on Twitter. Comments, feedback, book/article recommendations, anything is welcome.

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