The Role of Attention in the Zone

Volume 2, Issue 15

Our nonprofit organization,The Human Effectiveness Institute, may be unique among nonprofit foundations in providing people with heuristics specifically designed to increase individual experience of the Observer and Flow (Zone) states of consciousness. Books that contain ancient scriptural texts from India, and other psychotechnologies derived from these teachings or rediscovered experientially, also offer such advice, since the samadhi, satori and zazen states are neurological levels within Flow.

In recent posts we have looked at Flow from many different points of view, including the relation to Flow of values, motivations, attachments, matching of skills and challenges, doing something for its own sake not for outcomes, and striving for Flow in the work one does best. In this post we will consider how attention  is central to both Observer and Flow states.

ADD and ADHD are two modern symptomologies of Acceleritis, which undoubtedly also existed in the past but were never so prevalent as to warrant being named and studied. With the world culture veering wildly as information overload overwhelms our cortical abilities, our attention tends to be diffuse, unfocused, and constantly hopping from one distraction to another — conditions inimical to Flow.

A terrific book given to me recently by my great new friend and partner in Playshops, Richard Zackon, The Taboo of Subjectivity, by Alan Wallace — which recounts with such authenticity one feels as if Wallace is the reincarnation of William James — describes how James analyzes the most advanced “mystical” contemplative state he himself achieved as being one of alert vivid attention. Furthermore, the state was free of subjective constructs, conceptual thinking, and the singlepointed focus was on the nature of the experience of consciousness itself, thus utterly transcending the usual experience of mindand its incessant chatter. James thus demystified this state by explaining its differentness in purely scientific terms.

So long as one is not master of one’s own attention, none of the other suggestions we have provided or can provide will bear fruit in the way of Flow state. This is why so many of the Eastern traditions start with, and continuously emphasize, concentration training. Such training is no longer optional in the racing world of information overflow in which we now live, it is something we all need almost as much as we need love.

We cannot cover the subject of concentration training fully in this one post. A few key secrets of achieving concentration in current real world conditions will have to suffice for a start:

  • Focus 100% on one thing at a time.
  • Be present in the moment.
  • Do not rush — go no faster than you can with a rational and appropriate degree of perfectionism for the challenge you are facing.

In order to focus on one thing at a time you need:

  • To ruthlessly block off distractions.
  • As distracting but important ideas arise, jot them down on a side notepad and put them totally out of your mind until later. At the end of each day, integrate the list of waiting thoughts in priority order in a single list (or a personal list and a core business list). This will enable you to turn away from distracting thoughts without your mind tugging at your sleeve, fearing that important time limits are being exceeded on one or more of these items. Indeed, get done the side-notes in their own needed timeframes.

More on attention in future posts. This one dimension is one of the most important overlooked matters in world culture circa 2012.

Best to all,


PS – Gian Fulgoni was kind to tweet our last post – Click here.

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