Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review - Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life
Written By: Winifred Gallagher

Rapt is an exploration of how attention plays such a crucial role in the quality of your life. The idea that what you choose to pay attention to shapes your life is the theme of the book as it explores the impact attention has on productivity, decisions, creativity, relationships, happiness and health. Rapt supports its claims with numerous insights, studies and data from both neuroscience and behavioral psychology. Simplistically the book is best summarized with the following quote found in the introduction:

"My experience is what I agree to attend to." - William James

The idea that attention holds so much power over your life should be encouraging because it means it is possible to shape your existence, outcome and daily mood. The human mind can only absorb and attend to so much and knowing how to control this is considered the secret to happiness for many.

The title of the book, Rapt, is appropriate as the term literally means to be completely absorbed, engrossed, fascinated and focused at any given moment. Rapt attention can make time seemingly fly by, create inner happiness and help you concentrate better in all aspects of your life. If you are achieving a rapt state of attention it most likely means that you're seeking out activities and a life that is full of your undivided attention instead of the reactive, unfocused and drifting way that many of us spend our time.

Rapt offers many antidotes to take control of your attention such as meditating and choosing the right activities. Through the power of meditating one should give complete focus to a single task for prolonged periods of time such as breathing. This practiced state of rapt attention increases your capacity for living the focused life. The wisdom to consistently choose enjoyable but challenging activities enables you to work your brain just enough to experience complete "flow" which the books considers the optimal human experience. Flow is better achieved when you choose activities that stretch your mental muscles such as when you are devoting time to a challenging hobby like learning guitar, playing sports, cooking a new recipe or devoting your time to a specific project at work. It is less likely to occur though when you space out while watching TV or when are trying to accomplish twenty things at once while multi-tasking. A consistent commitment to challenging and focused work and leisure produces a better daily experience and in-turn develops you into a more interesting person.

Rapt is a book for life and work. It preaches such timeless concepts as demonstrating self-control, focusing on positive thinking and making sure you give the people in your life the full, undivided attention they deserve. According to Rapt, this is the secret to a healthy and happy life and while we can't be happy all the time, the decisions we make on where to devote our attention and mental energy, goes a long way to shaping our overall life experience. As the book explains in discussing the connection that positive and productive rapt attention has with your overall health and well being, even the longevity of your life depends on the ability to control your attention.

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