“Subjective experience is not just one of the dimensions of life, it is life itself.”– Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Or as I like to rephrase it: “Life is a subjective experience.”
We never experience things in an objective manner. Everything goes through our senses and then through the mental filters of our brains. We actually work really hard to try and get to objective reality. That is the whole goal of science. To remove the subjectiveness from our observations.
The quote from Flow puts all of this in perspective. Whether we are experiencing objective reality or not, we are experiencing everything subjectively.
In distinction of beliefs we saw that what you believe affects how you act. Beliefs do this by interpreting reality. They affect your perceptions of events and facts. Getting your beliefs right is critical to living a more fulfilling life.
But there one other things that defines your subjective experience first and foremost.
Getting it right is the key.
What is Attention?
At any given moment there are a lot of things going on around you. In a globally connected world there is an infinite number of things you could be paying attention to.
Attention is what you are actually letting into your brain. What you are thinking about or processing with that computer in your head.
And it is the key to your life and your happiness.
Right now horrible, terrible things are happening in the world. But you aren’t experiencing them, and you don’t even know about them. So you don’t experience the horror.
Also right now wonderful and amazing things are happening in the world. But you aren’t experiencing them, and you don’t even know about them. So you don’t feel and experience the wonder.
Subjectively things you don’t perceive don’t exist.
What you are currently perceiving is your attention and it subjectively defines your life.
Getting Your Attention
“Hey you, over here!”
“Pay attention to me when I’m talking to you!”
Tapps the mic, “All right would you all take your seats and give me your attention.”
People and organizations are constantly trying to get our attention. Advertisers and business people want you to pay attention to their products and services. Safety professionals are trying to get you to pay attention to specific things because when you don’t people get hurt. Health care providers want you to pay attention to things that will keep you healthy.
These are all examples of externals that want our attention.
We all have those internal voices, both good and bad, that vye for our attention. Those things big and small that we like and want to think about. Thoughts will well worn pathways we run too in times of stress.
Where You Put Your Attention Is Your Life
If life is a subjective experience, and what our attention is on is our subjective experience, then your attention is your life.
Want to have a good and happy life? Put your attention on things that are good and happy.
The quality of your life is directly related to how much of your time you can focus on those things of high quality.
Attention gets goes places. Sometimes it goes where we want it to. That’s when we “put” our attention on something. Other time our attention is “drawn”, “captured”, or “pulled” somewhere.
Distraction, Multitasking, and Flow
What happens when your get distracted? A distraction is pulling your attention from where you want it to be.
Splitting your attention lowers the quality of your attention for both things. This is why multitasking doesn’t work. You are only giving a small amount of attention to each thing.
Flow is a super concentrated attention on one thing over all others. We will talk about it more in depth in the future, but for now know Flow is happiness, and the amount of time you spend in Flow is how happy you are.
Notice Your Attention
This concept is hard to explain. Hard to write about in a way that cleanly explains it. Hopefully I’ve communicated enough that you can start noticing where your attention is. That is the first step to change. Noticing what needs to change.
I challenge you to notice where you attention goes. Why is it going there? Do you have a habit of pulling out your phone when you sit down? Are you putting your attention where you want it to be, or is it getting pulled around by little red dots with numbers on them?
Feel and notice when you are trying to focus on something, but find yourself thinking about something totally unrelated. How did your attention get hijacked?
Also notice when you attention is full of the things you want it filled with. Where is your attention when you are feeling happiness?
Once you notice where you attention is going, you can start to have even more control over it.