Attention: New Currency, Old Magic

Have you ever been in the midst of doing something that was once complicated, and caught yourself thinking “OH MY GOD I’M DOING IT!” right before completely messing it up? Maybe it was typing before you mistyped a word. Maybe it was playing a piece of difficult music before missing a note. Or leaping hurdles before stumbling. I’ve had that happen a lot. It’s as if the power of attention itself turns into a distraction.

Moments like that make me think about what attention is, and what kind of power attention has. What is prayer if not attention? Meditation is about where the attention is. During one of my favorite yoga videos, the instructor says “Where are your thoughts?”

Attention is Currency

Attention is spent by what we give it to — and in this modern age of social media, infotainment, and incessant distraction — it’s a more valuable commodity than many realize. Time is money, but attention is how our mind spends that time.

Humans have been thinking about attention a long time — Confucius said ‘Be attentive to what you do, never consider anything unworthy of your attention.’ Psychology first became accepted as a science with the opening of a psychology lab in 1879, and William James wrote about attention in his 1890 text ‘The Principles of Psychology.’ He wrote, ‘Attention is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of…