Sunday, August 3, 2014

Notes and Quotes from the Book "Rapt" by Winifred Gallagher


Winifred Gallagher

She introduces her interest in the topic by relating how she faced malignant cancer and chemo by forcing herself to control her focus and think only of the positive. The book is a tissue of studies and professional opinions about how we can use focus to change our lives. There is some danger in this to regard focus as a panacea for solving all our problems, the way Karen Pryor used her book to see all of life exclusively in the terms of operant conditioning. For the sense of emphasis, this is important, but as seasoned readers we need not fall into the enthusiasm of what we are reading and lose our proportion.

On a personal note, I will mention that. Self control can begin with small touches, an accumulation of prods. Often when we attempt a thing, maybe avoiding coffee for a day, or a candy bar, we are right back at it the next, and the accumulative effect may seem to be zero. However, as we gain a sense of power and pride over controlling our impulses, we can build our sense of self-mastery. After changing my bed time from 2 pm in the afternoon till 10 am, I get used to the new schedule and decided I would change my wake time till 8 am. I only secured inconsistent results on this, with a lot of self-blame and frustration. However, I realized that though I was trying for 8 a.m., I had at least moved it from 10 a.m. to 9 a.m. and that is a success, and should be banked upon and built upon until I have the fortitude to come back to my 8 a.m. goal.

William James, who is the main inspiration for this book Rapt, which, comparatively, is a whimper of an afterclap, simply a raking together of recent research, wrote an essay entitled "the energies of man." He suggested there that fatigue is just a habit too. Often we aren't really tired, but our feeling tired is a habit, and if we press past the fatigue, our energy will return. He suggest we shift our threshold, that we build our capacity to will, and this by incrementally increasing challenges to our will. The heart of his essay, probably its inspiration, is a letter received from a bipolar friend who cured himself through adopting a severe form of yoga. One success inspires another, so build your success ladders with increments you can actually achieve. James also notes how certain ideas are greatly energizing, such as the ideas that inspire religious conversions.

The goal in all of this is self-mastery. It is not something you can pay for or ask another to do for you, it is you in relation to yourself. The psychological work of James gives enough resources for all this: there is nothing profoundly knew in the articles Gallagher brings together, but it is heartening to see the ideas find confirmation.

The central idea to accept is this: LIFE IS FOCUS. As Emerson said, what a man focuses on all day is his life.

We can control what we focus on. We start out with a little bit of control. We would focus on this, but can only do so for a moment before something else pops in. Yet focus is a muscle that grows through exercise. "the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another," said William James. Indeed, self improvement IS attention reform. "To fill the hour -- that is happiness" said Emerson, and transcendentalism, the spiritual source of James' work, and also, apparently Gallagher, admonishes us to look at the world as a scripture to be studied: or in other words, to give rapt focus to our surroundings.

To enjoy your thinking you must take charge of your attention.

One study found that most people feel "mildly pleased" most of the time. Of Gallagher's studies, and her unconsciously cynical commentary on the disparity between what we THINK we value, and how we actually act, is refuted, mostly, by the fact that most people are mostly happy. For the rest of us, making a program for mental discipline makes sense.

Northwestern University cognitive scientist Don Norman broke down the brain into three parts: the reactive mind, behavioral mind and reflective mind. Conscious thinking is reflective mind. He regarded reflective mind as ineffective.

Nevertheless, this reflective mind is a rudder that through willing can change our world. We can shift our focus from dispiriting ideas to problem solving ideas. What matters first of all is that we value such ideas in the first place, and set up a habit of filtering our ideas.

We can force focus. Pay attention to what gives you pleasure. If in a bad mood, focus on something positive as a leverage point. Find something to be grateful for in all situations. Most people focus on the frowning face in a crow of neutral faces. Successful politicians search out the amiable face in a crowd of frowners.

On a personal note, I will recommend that we live on our own pace -- and not compromise on this. The disjointed pace imposed by work and family can make it harder to focus. Taking time to set time alone to think your own way at your own pace is necessary for finding that centering center of our being.

The book makes a difference between experiential focus, which in its extreme can feel mystically ecstatic, and instrumental focus, such as scientists use. Mozart is given as an example as a man who can find ecstasy in Bach's music, and yet instrumentally implement his own music.

The theme throughout the book is repeated like a canon: ignore unproductive thoughts and feelings and attend to energizing generative ideas.

How do we gain the power to attend ideas with more strength? Meditation is paying rapt attention for a period of time -- ideally, for 45 minutes. During this time, one object is chosen for focus, such as your breath, and when the attention strays, as it invariably will for novices, you gently bring it back to the object.

Happiness is defined as actively moving towards your goals, and we are admonished to take an optimistic goal-oriented orientation.

This is not solipsistic. Focusing on others or with others matters. "When employees focus on how their efforts affect other people, rather than just on the details of the task, their sense of relationship boosts their satisfaction and their productivity." For example, fund raisers who first spend 10 minutes with scholarship students drum up twice as much money for their schools.

Hang out with a kindred who shares hopes and dreams. When approaching a loved one, attempt it with nonconfrontational conversation, nonjudgmental. Marriage needs a profound focus on your partner. See your spouse through a rose-colored glasses -- she will grow to justify your bias. When she delivers good news about her job performance, express it as a consequence of your partner's past authentic self. Take the effort to process your experiences jointly -- join worlds, come to terms. Focus on the positive -- together. Those partners with a strong sense of self-worth expect their partners to respect and admire them and don't brood about being overly dependent or getting rejected. Don't guard against pain, build the pleasure of intimacy. Focus on the kind of behavior that brought you together, and keep it alive. Remember to write those romantic poems and letters you wrote the first year.

Physical exercise and mental exercise (single point meditation) create transferrable skills. Suppress distractions -- herd your thoughts (the theme of this book). Choose activities that stretch you to your limit .. this will increase your ability to focus longer and harder. If you take on too much you will feel anxious, overwhelmed, unable to concentrate. When tackling a new skill, break down a skill into manageable steps. Find ways to enjoy what you are doing, for enjoyment makes you more effective. Concentrate on what interests you. Gamify you life, turn your work into a game. To avoid burnout on the job, consider doing more then you normally would: add a hobby to your routine.

Plan your free time as strictly as work time, troubling yourself towards growth and goal. Most people don't enjoy their free time as much as they think they do. Consider keeping a diary of your focus to determine what you are focused on during the day and how you feel about it.

"I don't have time" means "I don't have the discipline." so progressively increase your challenges.

Focus can be sustained if you ask questions about the object. If you are trying to be creative, know that creation follows long periods of intense focus. For example, Jefferson studied John Locke and philosophy for years before dashing of the Declaration of Independence in a few days. Insight takes steady concentration. Use purposeful attention, active, searching, ask questions about what you are looking at. Take time to engage it, for "what is engaged becomes engaging."

As a personal note, I have found that everybody is sensitive to a narrow band of reality. Tap such resources and you will add organs to your perception.

In skill building, don't seek a recognized proficiency, but a personal renaissance. The question isn't "Can I" but "How to?"

Adopt a vigorous, searching, questioning, elaborative style of focus.

Harvard Psychologist Henry Murray identified three motivators: will to power, to gain dominance and status; the desire for achievement; and the desire for affiliation. University of Michigan Oliver Schultheis compared German students to American and found American s focus on goals of innovation and success, Germans on dominance and status.

With children praise concrete accomplishments and instances of self control, and don't make universal praises like "You're so smart."

Isaac Newton has "mental energy" to pay rapt attention for a long time without wavering. "I kept the subject constantly before me and waited until the first dawnings open little by little before me into the full light." He pursued life with tenacious effort and long-term consistent attention.

With temptations, simply shift your focus away from temptation. The mind is a group of bickering agents. Listen to the supportive voice and suppress distracting, counterproductive voices. Temptation is strong but short lived. To yield to temptation empowers our slaves to defy us in the future.

Have rapt attention on the present. Don't wait for the next moment, a better moment. Embrace this moment.

You become self-regulating by being self-regulating, by foregoing or delaying gratification. Satisfaction depends on top-top focus, the reflective mind focusing downwards. Attention can be trained, and is a matter of habit. The great obstacle to enjoying life's happiest moments is by not paying attention to them. Attending to pleasure increases it.