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Archive for the ‘Attention’ tag

Embrace Grit, Enjoy the Journey, and Always Be Reading (Sunday Reads #11)

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Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.

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Getting Creative Work Done

If you struggle to declutter your magazine pile, a technique called ABR – Always Be Reading may be for you.  As someone who spends many hours a week focused on helping people read more (with a Kindle preferably) this approach sounds interesting, and is actually pretty aligned with what I personally do.

Are you a manager?  Your late-night or very early-morning emails may be hurting your team.  Being always-on hurts team results in a big way.  I’ve been in the habit for years of delay-sending the email I write after 6:30pm on Friday or over the weekend until late Monday morning.

If you’d like to form successful habits, you need to know what motivates you.

A recent study showed that heavy cellphone users report higher anxiety levels and dissatisfaction with life than their peers who use their phones less often – and another showed a correlation between stress levels and the barrage of alerts and notifications.  This app automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone or iPad each day and helps you set limits.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 22nd, 2015 at 8:47 pm

Downtime with Nature: What You Need to Reduce Stress, Increase Attention, and "Create Again"

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I’m writing this overlooking the Pacific Ocean with an iced coffee by my side, and a gentle breeze on my face.  I’ve spent the last week in Maui with my family, so please excuse the obligatory photos of paradise!


While on the island, I’ve been doing everything I can to unwind.  I’ve been devouring scones, French fries, margaritas, Oreos, bacon, Frosted Mini Wheats and other junk I don’t allow myself to even consider eating most of the time.  I’ve stopped tracking my habits.  I’ve exercised just once if you don’t count swimming and chasing my kids; a short run near the beach on our first day here.  I haven’t spent any time checking tasks off of my lists; in fact I had moved them all over to a "Post Vacation" category before we left the mainland so I wouldn’t even stumble upon them accidentally.  I haven’t done much writing, stretching, or flossing, and I’ve had a metric ton of Maui Coffee.  It’s been great!

Yet I’m not too concerned about slacking off, or at least not as much as my Type A personality would suggest.  Though I’m itching to get back into my routine, I’m not worried about what would normally be viewed as a setback.

Planned breaks like these are required to reset my passion meter from time to time.  I try and force myself to "unplug" from my (somewhat) normal intensity to help me remember why I do what I do to begin with.  It’s hard to hit the ‘off’ switch… it’s frankly just as hard as turning it back on again, but I try and view it as sort of like stopping at a gas station before a long road trip; breaks like this fuel me for at least a few months, and after six days of gluttony and objective laziness, I always realize that it’s not the permanent life for me.

But what you do for a few weeks out of the year doesn’t define the year, and it doesn’t define you.  It’s what you do most of the time, not just some of the time, that makes the difference over the long haul.  Have consistency in the fundamentals (modulo a week here and there) and personal growth is inevitable.

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Focus: How Rapt Attention Changes Who We Are

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I’ve recently started reading Rapt by Winifred Gallagher (book number fifteen on my annual goal list of eighteen relevant books).  While the book has a set of good and bad reviews on Amazon, I found the description and the Kindle Sample interesting enough to buy and read it.  It’s no secret I’m interested in learning as much as I can about attention and focus, so anything that could help improve my understanding of the area even a little bit is worth the $10 investment.

So far, I’ve been quite pleased.  The introduction section of this book has one of the most accurate descriptions of focus and attention I’ve read to-date – and given Refocuser’s subject matter, I thought it would be fun to relay what I found to be the key takeaway from Rapt’s introduction: the grand unified theory of positive psychology.

In physics, the notion of a “grand unification theory” or “grand unified theory” is the holy grail of research, and has been for many years.  The idea is to merge all disparate theories into a single theory that describes everything in the universe – gravity, quantum mechanics, relativity, and so on.  It’s clean and simple, and scientists like structure and order.  When it comes to positive psychology, you could say that a similar unifying theory would help crystallize things into something more approachable for everyday people.  There are thousands of interesting studies to draw upon, and thousands more sources to pull from, but because of this explosion of information, it’s hard to grasp onto it.  People speak often of the many of things you can do to increase the quality of your life, but maybe there is actually a single statement or line of thinking that wraps everything up with a bow; something that everything else hangs off of.  This proposal from Rapt is as close as I’ve found:

Your life—who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.

It is pretty simple, isn’t it?  But it has broad implications.  It suggests that your internal experience is entirely forged by your external experience, specifically the things which you choose to apply your attention to.  And that you have control over it.  You can create your experience by learning how to focus your attention on the things that matter the most to you.  Maybe it’s not easy or natural right away, but it’s possible.  I love that thought.

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Written by Mike Torres

October 9th, 2009 at 8:56 am

Finding Time to Write (Or to Get Into Creative Mode)


Click for photoI’ve written this entire blog, past and future, in my head a dozen times over the last decade.  I’ve mentally written millions of words and crystallized my perspective on the topics this blog will cover – but take a guess at what I forgot to do.  Write it all down!  What some would consider the easy part.  Reason?  Lack of time. Or so I’d been telling myself for years.

Everyone has probably heard these phrases:

  • Winners make the time!
  • If you don’t have the time, you don’t want it badly enough.

Naturally I agree with those statements in theory, but it’s always a lot harder to turn them into practice.  How do you make the time when there are a thousand other important things pulling at your attention?  The “answer” to that question is bigger than this one post – it’s the focus of this blog – so for now I’m going to cover the “rule set” I’ve followed for sitting down and writing this blog.  These rules have worked well for the (very) short amount of time I’ve been employing them, and I expect they’re just the start of a longer list over time.  They cover writing as an activity but could also be extended to just about any creative activity – simply replace the word writing with painting, dancing, graphic design, or whatever else you’d like to focus on.

Before jumping in however, it’s important that you’ve already made the commitment to yourself that whatever it is you want to invest in creatively is important to you.  Do you consider it an important part of your core values or mission?  Is it one of your top 3 focus areas?  Do you have both long-term and short-term goals relating to this activity and have you written them down?  If you’ve answered no to any of those questions, you have to ask yourself if you’re actually going to “make the time” for something that doesn’t align with who you ultimately want to be.  Do you “want it badly enough”?  Think about it before taking the next step.

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Written by Mike Torres

April 8th, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Creativity

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Pick Your Top 3 Focus Areas… and Drop Everything Else

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Click for photo Focusing on what matters most to you is the only way you can make material progress towards your goals. Typically when you talk to people who are so stressed out they can’t see straight, they complain that they simply have too much to do and feel overwhelmed. When you dig a little deeper, you almost always discover that they’re trying to do too much to begin with and are trying to be too many things to too many people. They don’t have a North Star to keep them moving towards their goals and may not even know what’s actually important to them. They just feel like they’re failing at everything and need help.

A while back I was at a conference with a senior executive of one of the most successful companies in the world. An audience member asked him how he got to where he is, expecting an answer along the lines of “I work all the time”, “This company is my life”, or “I’m on email at midnight and then again at 5am”. His answer was simple. He said, “I realized early on that I couldn’t do everything if I wanted to be good at anything. So I thought about the three things that were most important to me and pretty much eliminated the rest. This means I can excel in those three areas without any guilt since I know these are the most important to me. And I don’t spend time regretting what I’m not doing because it’s a choice I made.”

He called it ruthless focus. He probably used the word ruthless because it was as much about the things he wasn’t going to do as it was about the things he was doing. Some of the other things he wanted to do just weren’t going to get his attention if he were going to buckle down and focus on his top three things. And he had come to terms with that.

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Written by Mike Torres

April 5th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Goal Setting

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Introduction to the Flow State (part 2 of 2)

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This post is part of the Introduction to the Flow State series.  Read the first part.

"In the groove", "in the zone", "in the bubble", and "on auto-pilot" are all ways to describe what the Japanese call "muga", and what Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHICK-sent-me-high-ee) dubbed "flow" in the 1980s. 

Flow can be defined as a period in time in which one becomes so completely involved in an activity that all other thoughts and emotions – what some consider the "self" – are excluded from consciousness

Raise the stakes and improve your skills

Click for photoWhatever the immediate activity we’re participating in, we need to continually find a way to 1) set clear goals, 2) find ways to measure progress and 3) raise the stakes when we become bored. In order to consistently achieve the flow state, we must continue to increase our skill set as well as the challenge, in order to avoid becoming disinterested, overwhelmed, or apathetic. This means striking a unique balance in which Dr. Csikszentmihalyi and Dr. Susan Jackson label the “C/S Balance” (challenge/skills) in their book “Flow in Sports”. The activity needs to be challenging, but not so challenging that it’s perceived as an impossibility. As your skill level increases, you’ll need to continually increase the level of personal challenge in the activity.

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Written by Mike Torres

March 21st, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Introduction to the Flow State (part 1 of 2)

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This post is part of the Introduction to the Flow State series.  Read the second part.

Click for photo "In the groove", "in the zone", "in the bubble", and "on auto-pilot" are all ways to describe what the Japanese call "muga", and what Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHICK-sent-me-high-ee) dubbed "flow" in the 1980s. 

Flow can be defined as a period in time in which one becomes so completely involved in an activity that all other thoughts and emotions – what some consider the "self" – are excluded from consciousness

It’s during this episode that an athlete or artist is in the much desired yet elusive mental state required to push his or her limits in the quest for peak performance. While most people view flow strictly as an afterthought, there are some who deem it as the sole purpose of any type of activity or training due to the fact that it enhances their awareness, improves their mood, and most importantly, enables them to perform at a level of proficiency they wouldn’t otherwise be capable of.

Bruce Lee was an ardent believer in the flow state (he referred to it as wu-hsin, flow’s Cantonese counterpart) and stated, "The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action" (Tao of Jeet Kune Do, p7).  He believed that "physical stoppage", or the opposite of wu-hsin, could create many problems for a martial artist, as it would almost always result in hesitation and self-doubt.  It’s also said that he planned to use wu-hsin as his alibi should he ever have to legally defend a violent act, by simply stating that he did not do it, "it did it all by itself".

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Written by Mike Torres

March 17th, 2009 at 5:46 pm