Tag Archives | attentional training

What Do You Focus On?

Estock_commonswiki_328901_hWhat you put your attention on grows.  It's that simple.

So if you put your attention on how wonderful it is to write every day, that writing habit will grow.  If you focus on how much fun it is to submit to agents (I'm feeling funny today), you'll do more of it. If you think about your novel when you're not writing, you'll spend more time on it.  That's just the way of the world.

So, piece of cake, right?  Just focus away and off you'll go.

Would that it was that simple.  Because in reality the art of focus is incredibly complex, or at least we humans make it so.

It takes discipline and work to train your attention to writing every day.  Usually, what happens in our brains is a thought process like this:

Oh my God, I didn't write today!  I'm a lazy idiot!  I can never get a writing habit going! I'll never finish my novel!

And then we're focusing on the exact condition we don't want to create–not writing.

Negative thoughts, like all forms of fear, are sneaky beasts.  They can be so ingrained that they form a constant low-level litany of which we're barely aware as we go about out days.  It's the proverbial vicious cycle:  you think negative thoughts–>you create negative conditions–>and then you think more negative thoughts.

Heavy sigh.

What's a writer to do to get her focus on the right things?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Attentional Training.  This is pretty much a fancy word for meditation that I learned in a book by Jonathan Fields.  You can do any version of it you want: zazen, TM, insight mantra, or just close your eyes and take a few deep breathes throughout the day.  Honestly, it's a pain in the butt, and it is helpful for every aspect of your life, including your creativity and your spirituality.  If you're like me, you'll probably be convinced that you're not doing it right, but no matter how you do it, the practice really helps.

2. Active Attentional Training.  And this is the same as above only, as the name implies, in an active fashion.  So, it's when you are performing sports, or playing music, or, more to my tastes, knitting, sewing, weeding, even mowing the lawn (I do actually do that once in a while–with a push mower even).    You're doing AAT when  you're involved in a repetitive activity that does not require constant attention, or if you're engaging in an activity driven by speed, novelty, or intense bursts of concentration.  A recent example of this for me was doing homework for a class I took at church last week.  I had to read some fairly dense texts and process them mentally.

3.  Eternal vigilance.  Like I said earlier, it is a constant process.   You have to watch and monitor your thoughts endlessly.  But, they are your thoughts, and you are going to have them whatever you do, so you might as well work at turning negative ones into positive ones.  It's a lot more pleasant than, say, rerunning the fight with your boyfriend all day.

4.  Show up.  What's the famous Woody Allen quote? Something along the lines of, "99% of success is showing up."  So very true.  If you keep showing up at your writing chair day after day after day you're training yourself to eventually start focusing.  Because staring at a blank screen does get boring.

5.  Respect the work.  When we don't show up, when we don't focus our attention, we're not respecting the work, or  ourselves.  And what's the point of calling yourself a writer if you're not respecting your profession?  Respecting the work leads to better focus and better focus leads to better work which leads to more respect. Another one of those cycles, this one not so vicious.

So, there you have it, some tips on focus.  Got any of your own you'd like to share?

Photo by Julo, from Wikimedia commons.

 

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Tool For Writers: Attentional Training

I'm finishing up Uncertainty, the book by Jonathan Fields, and last Friday, after I wrote about Everystockphoto_172114_mprocess visualization, I promised a post with another tip that'll help with your creativity.  That tip is attentional training.

As mentioned earlier, Fields likes to give fancy names to things we've all heard of and are familiar with. 

Thus, attentional training = meditation. 

Or similar activities.  Or, as Fields puts in, "techniques that create certain psychological and physiological changes in your body and brain."  Like I said, meditation.

What captured my attention (hahaha, funny pun) was his discussion of active AT.  What, pray tell, is that?  He says "This is how the vast majoritiy of people get their AT in," and further, that many people engage in this kind of AT without even realizing it.  For instance, when you're painting, or playing music, or knitting, or engaged in sports.  The hallmarks of active AT are:

–a repetitive, deliberate activity that does not require constant attention (I'm way synopsizing here)

–an activity driven by novelty, speed or intense bursts of concentration.

I'm way good at the first kind of active AT, such as knitting or sewing or weeding, all that repetitive motion stuff.  And I've been advocating it as a route to creativity for years.  There's just something about the repeated motions that jars ideas loose from the brain.  I can't tell you how many times I've stood up from the computer, done for the day, and picked up my knitting, only to rush back to the computer because of the rush of images that suddenly flood my mind.  Other activities in this category are running and biking.

The other kind of AT that Fields discusses is mindfulness AT, things like meditation, in all its various forms (including zazen, insight, mantra, and so on).  Over the last few decades, there have been studies galore that sing the praises of meditation for its mindfulness properties.  Here's the deal about it: you do it just for the sake of doing it, but the benefits of it are legion.  Because the more you train yourself to sit in meditation and empty the brain, the easier it is to sit and focus on your writing.  And its good for your state of mind and your body as well, but who cares about that crap as long as it benefits the writing? 

I like meditation because it gives me a break from the ongoing and exhausting rushing craziness of my story.  Now, I'm the first to venerate the power of story, but when I'm caught up in my crappy story, the stuff I've told myself over and over again so many times I want to vomit, it doesn't feel very powerful or uplifting.  So getting a break from it is pretty wonderful.

And let me just offer up the single most important thing I've learned about meditation: even if you're lousy at it, however you're doing it helps.  I used to think that people who meditated didn't deal with the mind chatter that assails me.  But they do.  And that is why we meditate.  To quiet the mind chatter so that we can listen–and hear the still small voice within, or perhaps the voice of God, giving us marching orders.  The key is to keep at it.  Even when your mind chatter interrupts you a million times in the five minutes you've given yourself to meditate.  Even when you think its not helping.  Because it is.  And it gets easier. 

Do you practice meditation?  Or any kind of active AT?  How do you feel it benefits your writing?

***Another great way to foster creativity is to make a vision board for your book or writing project.  Download my free ebook to find out more, just fill out the form to the right of this post and you'll also receive a free subscription to my bi-weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer.

Photo by keithcr, from Everystockphoto.

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