Most people I know are fairly responsible with their monetary situation. I suspect most of you reading this blog have somewhat reasonable control of your finances. And yet, there are other currencies you deal in every day and to which you pay far less attention and over which you have far less control. This is a risky game you are playing because some of these currencies are actually more important than money.
Whatever you focus your attention on expands. It collects interest far more rapidly than money. As one simple example, when you pay attention to celebrity gossip you are telling your brain celebrity gossip is important and you automatically attract more of it into your life. It’s not some mystical attraction, it is simply the fact that your brain’s alert system will notice more of it and draw your conscious attention to it. You get interested in the stories. The headlines in the checkout stand will jump out at you and you may pick up the magazine and browse it. Your ears will pick up on the TV news coverage of celebrities and their trivial lives. You will be drawn toward conversations at work or in social situations that are focusing on celebrities. It’s a vicious cycle and you need to stop it. You think it is harmless but it is not. Your non-conscious mind is thinking about it. Wouldn’t you rather that super-computer in your head be focused on more creative and important issues?
Another example. You start complaining about something at work. Your co-workers join in and you all start thinking of more examples. You put emotion into your negative thoughts. Your brain is now on alert and it notices more and more examples of your miserable work life. You think about it more and more and these negative situations become even more important. You are just feeding the beast and allowing it to grow to the point it consumes you. And you thought it was just some harmless complaining at the water cooler.
A Recent Story
Here is a personal example that has a positive ending. A while back I was browsing a table of new biographies in a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I noticed two new biographies of Ayn Rand. I hadn’t read any of her writings for decades, but one of the biographies looked fascinating and I decided to buy it. I was immediately absorbed in the fascinating story of her troubled and brilliant life. It took me back 30 years to a time when I first discovered her books and was drawn deeply into her ideas. In the days after I read her biography I found myself going to my bookshelves and pulling out my really old copies of her books and reading some of the material. I didn’t really want to spend my time doing that because I already knew exactly what she had said. I had focused my attention on the subject of Ayn Rand and her ideas started filling my conscious and non-conscious thoughts. I had told my brain that the subject of Ayn Rand was important.
While I disagree with Ayn Rand in some significant ways, one of the things that drew me to her in my youth was her incredibly passionate belief that ideas matter and that they matter a lot. To this day I have never encountered another person that has held that belief so deeply or so brilliantly articulated the practical impact of philosophy and ideas. That’s the good part of this story of my brief time travel back into the world of Ayn Rand. It reminded me of the importance of ideas.
From that point on I have spent more time thinking deeply and reflectively. It reawakened in me a passion for philosophy and deeply critical thought. I find myself now reading some books that are much more likely to light a fire in me than what I had been reading. I had been focusing on things that were of a more immediately practical nature. I was not wasting my time on the practical; these ideas were interesting and useful, but they didn’t get me out of bed in the morning or get me excited about life.
I had been paying attention to the practical side of life and thus the practical grew in importance. I was neglecting some of my most deeply held values; the things that mattered most to me. So simply paying attention to one book, created a course correction in me that is making my life more satisfying right now.
I started a book yesterday afternoon that is absolutely fascinating, The Age of American Unreason (Vintage) by Susan Jacoby. It’s about the current state of the anti-intellectual American culture; its causes and its consequences. I only halfway through it but I’m totally enjoying it and it’s really making me think. Yesterday afternoon I also bought a new 600 page book I found at B&N called The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism by Howard Bloom. I’ve read the author before and he is a big thinker.
What’s the point of me telling you all of this? What you pay attention to matters and it matters a great deal. It matters much more than you think. Even when you are not consciously aware of it, the biggest and most powerful part of your brain is cranking away on what you tell your brain is important. Your non-conscious brain decides what is is important based upon what you are pointing your attention towards. What you are paying attention to now in some degree determines what your non-conscious mind will be paying attention to in the future.
“Your attention is the strongest currency at your disposal. If you squander it, your life will result in one big overdraft. If you invest it in things that you value, you will collect interest big time – and be interested along the way.” – Alan Cohen
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