The below outline and quotes come from Maggie Jackson’s book “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age”
To pause, to focus, to connect, to judge, and enter deeply into relationships and ideas.
“Attention, you might say, is the nectar of Memory and her children, the Muses.”-pg220, par1
-habits of the mind and body shape our nervous system pg 251
The 3 Pillars of Attention:
Focus: (orienting), the “mouth” of attention, the gateway to our perception, the scout, the flashlight of the mind, focus deluxe. It is our wayfarer, a means from infancy onward to understanding life and to nurturing the deep interconnectedness that we need to thrive. (Children look where their parents look, and this is called “joint attention” and is critical to development. Adults must practice this in order to be able to engage in community. It is a meeting of the minds, the opposite of which is seen in autism. pg240)
Judgment: (executive function), the sheriff/judge of the mind, at the heart of self-control, central to a spectrum of crucial capabilities from planning to meta-cognition to conflict resolution. It is at the core of control, judgement, planning, and decision making.
Awareness: (alerting), the gatekeeper network, the caretaker who turns the lights on and off and keeps the hearth fires burning in our cerebral house. Alerting is wakefulnesss, the cornerstone of sensitivity to our surroundings. “When we race breathlessly through life, detached from our surroundings and addicted to a kind of mindless mobility, we are short-circuting this thrid power of attention. When we seek relationships with our inanimate machinery, we begin to deaden ourselves to the pinpricks and caresses of the real world.” pg248
Mind Wandering– aka “mind popping”, aka “zoning out”, is a turning inward, a decoupling of our attention away from the outside world, that most commonly occurs when the task at hand is easy, lengthy, and familiar. It happens from 15 to 50 percent of the time, and takes us by surprise. When it is helpful, it helps to stoke problem solving.
***Mindfulness– an awareness which includes a steady, unwavering focus. (ie: breath meditation pulls the mind back to the breath again and again, honing attention.)
***Visual-spatial and verbal working memory- (our cognitive cupboards), are the backdoor to strengthening executive attention
******Block stacking, card matching, or word games that bolster attention, self-regulation, and memory. pg258
“Attention is an organ system, akin to our respiratory or circulation systems, according to cognitive neuroscientist Michael Posner. Attention, as James astutely understood, is the brain’s conductor, leading the orchestration of our minds. And its various networks are key not only to higher forms of thinking but to our morality and even our very happiness.
Yet increasingly, we are shaped by distraction. James described a clear and vivid possessing of the mind, an ordering, a withdrawal. We easily recognize that these states of mind are becoming less and less a given in our lives. The seduction of alternative virtual universes, the addictive allure of multitasking people and things, our near-religious allegiance to a constant state of motion: these are markers of a land of distraction, in which our old conceptions of space, time, and place have been shattered. This is why we are less and less able to see, hear, and comprehend what’s relevant and permanent, why so many of us feel that we can barely keep our heads above whatever, and our days are marked by perpetual loose ends. What’s more, the waning of our powers of attention is occurring at such a rate and in so many areas of life, that the erosion is reaching critical mass. We are n the verge of losing our capacity as a society for deep, sustained focus. In short, we are slipping toward a new dark age.” -pg14, par1-2
“All in all, attention is key to both our free will as individuals and our ability to subordinate ourselves to a greater good. The Oxford English Dictionary defines attention as ‘the act, fact or state of attending or giving heed; earnest direction of the mind,’ and secondarily as ‘practical consideration, observant care, notice.’ The word is rooted in the Latin words ad and tendere, meaning to ‘stretch toward,’ implying effort and intention. Even the phrase ‘attention span’ literally means a kind of bridge, a reaching across in order to widen one’s horizons. Attention is not always effortful, but it carrries us toward our highest goals, however we define them. A culture that settles for numb distraction cannot shape its future.” -pg 24, par1
“Attention is a process of taking in, sorting and shaping, planning, and decision making-a mental and emotional forming and kneading of the bread of life, or, if you prefer, an inner mountain climb. The first two forms of attention-alerting and orienting-allow us to sense and respond to our environment, while the third and highest network of executive attention is needed to make ultimate sense of our world… We don’t have to settle for lives mired in detachment, fragmentation, diffusion. A renaissance of attention is within our grasp.” -pg24-25, par1
“On the August day in 410 when the Goths brutally sacked Rome, the emperor was at his country house on the Adriatic, attending to his beloved flock of prize poultry. Informed by a servant that Rome had perished, the emperor, Honorius, was stunned. ‘Rome perished?’ he said. ‘It is not an hour since she was feeding out of my hand.’ The chamberlain clarified himself. He’d been talking about the city, not the imperial bird of that name. Apocryphal as this story may be, the point is apt. For in the years leading into a dark age, societies often exhibit an inability to perceive or act upon a looming threat, such as a declining resource. Twilight cultures begin to show a preference for veneer and form, not depth and content; a stubborn blindness to the consequences of actions, from the leadership on down. In other words, an epidemic erosion of attention is a sure sign of an impending dark age. Welcome to the land of distraction.” -pg26, par2
“‘Greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for another. Jesus, right? So that’s pretty good. But when we give another person our attention, we’re giving away that portion of our life. We don’t get it back. We’re giving our attention to what seems worthy of our life from moment to moment. Attention, the cultivation of attention, is absolutely core. It really is the lynchpin. It is the key.'” -Alan Wallace, pg258-259, par3
“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” -William James pg260, par1