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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A heaven of hell: The focused life

Winifred Gallagher's story:
Attention is selection: It's either this or it’s that.

During my cancer treatment several years ago, I managed to remain relatively cheerful by keeping in mind William James' comment, "My experience is what I agree to attend to." And this line from Milton: "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."

People don't understand that attention is a finite resource, like money. Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You're constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.

You can lead a miserable life by obsessing on problems. You can drive yourself crazy trying to multitask and answer every email instantly.

When I woke up in the morning [several years ago], I'd ask myself, Do you want to lie here paying attention to the very good chance you'll die and leave your children motherless, or do you want to get up and wash your face and pay attention to your work and your family and your friends? Hell or heaven – it's your choice.

Winifred's book, Rapt, is a guide to the science of paying attention. This post was synthesized from excerpts of her book, as reported by John Tierney in today's New York Times.

Read another story about the surprising effects of removing distractions.

Thanks to Winifred Gallagher, and John Tierney for the source article.

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