Consciousness, which is the "reflective" element of Norman's conceptual brain, handles the "higher" functions at the metaphorical tip of the very top of that complicated organ. Because consciousness pays a lot of attention to your thoughts, you tend to identify it with cognition. However, if you try to figure out exactly how you run your business or care for your family, you soon realize that you can't grasp that process just by thinking about it. As Norman puts it, "Consciousness also has a qualitative, sensory feel. If I say, 'I'm afraid, ' it's not just my mind talking. My stomach also knots up.
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Over time, a commitment to challenging, focused work and leisure produces not only better daily experience, but also a more complex, interesting person: the long-range benefit of the focused life. As Hobbs put it, the secret of fulfillment is "to choose trouble for oneself in the direction of what one would like to become.
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Your motivations-get that promotion, throw the best parties, run for public office-aren't impersonal abstractions but powerfully reflect who you are and what you focus on. An individual's goals figure prominently in the theories of personality first developed by the Harvard psychologist Henry Murray. According to his successor David McClelland, what Friedrich Nietzsche called "the will to power, " which he considered the major driving force behind human behavior, is one of the three basic motivations, along with achievement and affiliation, that differentiate us as individuals. A simple experiment show show these broad emotional motivations can affect what you pay attention to or ignore on very basic levels. When they examine images of faces that express different kinds of emotion, power-oriented subjects are drawn to nonconfrontational visages, such as "surprise faces, " rather than to those that suggest dominance, as "anger faces" do. In contrast, people spurred by affiliation gravitate toward friendly or joyful faces.
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In a variation on James's recipe for interesting experience-the familiar leavened by the novel-Hobbs's "art of choosing difficulties" requires selecting projects that are "just manageable." If an activity is too easy, you lose focus and get bored. If it's too hard, you become anxious, overwhelmed, and unable to concentrate. Tellingly, one group is distinguished by its zeal for the kind of work that requires you to give it all you've got: high achievers particularly relish taking on risky projects that have only a 50/50 chance of success.
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People who are diagnosed as having "generalized anxiety disorder" are afflicted by three major problems that many of us experience to a lesser extent from time to time. First and foremost, says Rapgay, the natural human inclination to focus on threats and bad news is strongly amplified in them, so that even significant positive events get suppressed. An inflexible mentality and tendency toward excessive verbalizing make therapeutic intervention a further challenge.
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Because you actually might not know what activities truly engage your attention and satisfy you, he says, it can be helpful to keep a diary of what you do all day and how you feel while doing it. Then, try to do more of what's rewarding, even if it takes an effort, and less of what isn't. Where optimal experience is concerned, he says, "'I just don't have the time' often means 'I just don't have the self-discipline.
Among these temperamentally unhappy campers are "reactant" personalities, who focus on what they often wrongly perceive as others' attempts to control them. In one experiment, some of these touchy individuals were asked to think of two people they knew: a bossy sort who advocated hard work and a mellow type who preached la dolce vita. Then, one of the names was flashed before the subjects too briefly to register in their conscious awareness. Next, the subjects were given a task to perform. Those who had been exposed to the hard-driving name performed markedly worse than those exposed to the easygoing name. Even this weak, subliminal attention to an emotional cue that suggested control was enough to get their reactant backs up and cause them to act to their own disadvantage. All relationships involve give-and-take and cooperation, so a person who habitually attends to ordinary requests or suggestions like a bull to a red flag is in for big trouble in both home and workplace.
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Yet he argued that even a tedious topic can take on a certain fascination if you make an effort to look at it afresh: "The subject must be made to show new aspects of itself; to prompt new questions; in a word, to change. From an unchanging subject the attention inevitably wanders away.
Arguably the mos intriguing characteristic assessed by the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ), a widely used test developed by the University of Minnesota's eminent psychologist Auke Tellegen, is "absorption, " which describes a particular style of focusing. If you get a high score in this trait, you're naturally inclined toward what he calls a "respondent" or "experiential" way of focusing.
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Research shows that when they confront a potentially unpleasant situation, such as some unfriendly faces at a gathering, these extraverts are apt to shift their attention rapidly around the room and zero in on amiable or neutral visages, thus short-circuiting the distressing images before they can get stored in memory.
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After he wrote The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz got fervent amens from European governments as well as individual readers for insisting that the management of your focus has become one of decision-laden modernity's major challenges. Many behavioral economists and social psychologists also share his concern about what he calls "the consequences of mis-attention.
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Recently, the search for what he calls "the splinters that make up different attention problems" has taken Castellanos in a new direction. First, he explains that your brain is far less concerned with your brilliant ideas or searing emotions than with its own internal "gyroscopic busyness, " which consumes 65 percent of its total energy. Every fifty seconds, its activity fluctuates, causing what he calls a "brownout." No one knows the purpose of these neurological events, but Castellanos has a thesis: the clockwork pulses enable the brain's circuits to stay "logged on" and available to communicate with one another, even when they're not being used. "Imagine you're a cabdriver on your day off, " Castellanos says. "You don't need to use your workday circuits on a Sunday, but to keep those channels open, your brain sends a ping through them every minute or so. The fluctuations are the brain's investment in maintaining its circuits online.
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Horse Frightened by a Lion depicts a majestic stallion in a very different situation. Stubbs painted this magnetic masterpiece to illustrate the nature of the sublime, which was one of his era's most popular philosophical concepts, and its relation to a timelessly riveting feeling: fear. The magnificent horse galloping through a vast wilderness encounters the bottom-up stimulus of a crouching predator and responds with a dramatic display of what psychologists mildly call "negative emotion." The equine superstar's arched neck, dilated eyes, and flared nostrils are in fact the very picture of overwhelming dread. The painting's subject matter reflects he philosopher Edmund Burke's widely circulated Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which asserts that because "terror" is unparalleled in commanding "astonishment, " or total, single-pointed, -indeed, rapt-attention, it is "the ruling principle of the sublime.
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However, by Sunday noon-not coincidentally, the unhappiest hour in America-you may have run through your options and wind up slumped on a couch, suffering from the Sabbath existential crisis. It's at just such unfocused, unproductive times, says Csikszentmihalyi, that "people start ruminating and feeling that their lives are wasted and so forth.
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Where visual artists are concerned, the Baroque sculptor and architect Bernini and the painter and sculptor Picasso were clearly adept at both experiential and instrumental attending, says Tellegen, as is the modern architect Frank Gehry. Choosing a literary example, he says that F. Scott Fitzgerald once admitted to "wrapping one of his romantic flings in cellophane" for later artistic use and notes that "this kind of heartless but honest professionalism is not uncommon among creative people.
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