Brain Pickings

Focus on Focus: Rapt

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Happiness, ADD, and why multitasking doesn’t work but denial might.

A few weeks ago, I came across Sam Anderson’s excellent New York Magazine article about the benefits of distraction. Sure, it took me a week to read — let’s face it, who has the luxury of single-task attention these days — but that was half the point.

In it, Anderson cites an intriguing book by cancer-survivor-turned-behavioral-science-writer Winifred Gallagher.

Rapt is a fascinating, thorough, yet brilliantly digestible foray into the power of attention. It’s solid science — from psychology experiments to fMRI studies — wrapped in Gallagher’s moving personal story: She turned to the focused life when her own life was disrupted by a grim cancer diagnosis.

From evolutionary theory to psycho-social science, Rapt is part descriptive expose on how the mind works, part prescriptive recipe for how to make it work better, live more richly, and inhabit each moment more fully.

You can’t be happy all the time but you can pretty much focus all the time. That’s about as good as it gets.

For a closer look at productivity, why creative people pay attention differently, and how to train ourselves to focus, watch this excellent interview with Gallagher on Australia’s equally excellent FORA network.

In this epidemic of what I call “skim culture” — the inability to give our attention fully to any one thing, stirred by the constant anxiety that there’s something better, more interesting, more urgent happening elsewhere simultaneously — Rapt comes highly recommended. If only to find out just why multitasking — brace yourself — doesn’t even remotely work, but denial actually might.

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