Book Review: “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life” by Winifred Gallagher

This book reminds me a lot about Malcolm Gladwell’s books: Tipping Point and Blinks. It has a lot of anecdotes but I’m not sure exactly the essences of book. It seems common sense that we derives our experiences from what we pay attention to. But I didn’t get many suggestions on how to control what attention we pay to.

You can shape your life experience by directing what you pay attention to. For example, paying attention to birds in the park may enhance your favorable experience in the park. Bottom-up vs. Top-down directed attention: the evolution has allowed human to spend less time worrying about immediate threats in the Savannah (bottom-up), thus more time on thinking what we want to pay attention to (top-down).

We’re apt to focus on unpleasant experience and emotions. Need to concentrate more productive, life-enhancing sort – toward courage or forgiveness.

What you see is what you get: Need to treat your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there. The elders tend to maximize opportunities to attend to the meaningful and serene.

Nature & Nurture: We are born with certain innate ability to focus but it’s still trainable. For example, Asian culture encourages efforts that makes the children focus their attention on the jobs at hand than their natural ability. The attention’s ability to change your brain and transform your experience prevails throughout life.

On relationship: Simply paying paying attention to someone else – the essence of bonding – is highly beneficial for both parties. Unlike the western culture, most of the rest of the world pay attention to the relationship with others.

On working: “If most of the time you’re not particularly concerned about whether what you’re doing is work or play, or even whether you’re happy or not, you know you’re living the focused life.”

On decision-making process: “Don’t worry if the choice you made wasn’t the absolute best, as long as it meets your needs… Good enough is almost always good enough.” Many poor decisions spring from focusing on the wrong things, like avoiding loss or exaggerate something’s importance.

On creativity (an eye for details): Vigorous, searching, questioning, elaborative style of focusing is the weapons against ideas and attitudes that stifle creativity. When you pay rapt attention, your spirits lift, expanding your cognitive range and creative potential, and perhaps even poising you for that personal renaissance.

On goals: focus forges the connection between your goals and personal resources. The old-fashioned quality of grit may be a better predictor of real-world performance. Attention’s mechanics ensure that when you lock on your objective, you enhance that aspiration and suppress things that compete with it, which helps you stay focused.

Attending to what matters the most: pay rapt attention to carefully chosen top-down targets. Spend 20~30 minutes focusing on something you enjoy or suspect you might but have never done. At the end of the day, you revisit and relish that pleasurable interlude and plan the next sojourn.

This book is easy to read without too much technical terms but it lacks focus, which is what it’s trying to preach. There are a few good points here and there, nevertheless.