I am aware the four attention styles theory is not easy to comprehend. That is why I keep trying to make it more approachable for a lay reader. For example, in my book ‘The Magic Terrace’ I have extended Dr Fehmi’s theory to personality traits. It is because I know that, most people like relate the new knowledge to something they are already familiar with. We all observe different behaviors interacting with other members of our family, meeting people at work, at parties, in the train, on the street, in the shop, etc… We know everyone is different and we cannot expect from someone who worries a lot to be the chattiest person at the party (unless perhaps s/he has a few drinks!).
Throughout centuries researchers have been trying to find patterns of human behaviour, thought, and emotion. I am sure most of you have heard about Hippocrates and his Four Temperaments. He was followed by many others – the best summary of personality theories, types and tests I found here link.
Some time ago I realised that the four attention styles theory is a great and surprisingly useful tool to classify personalities. I think everyone has the preferred (or dominant) attention style which shapes personality. It makes sense to me because attention styles and personalities have to be linked to the brain physiology. I noticed that this discovery had helped me many times to understand why someone behaved in a certain way. I can also be a lot more gentle with people because I know what to expect from them and what they are capable of. It can definitely make life easier. I hope you will agree with me after reading this post.
I will start with explaining the basics by presenting each attention style separately. Then I will describe the personality traits linked to each style.
See, the attention styles graph first.
At any time our attention can be described by two qualities – direction (narrow or diffused) and a relation between self and reality (objective or immersed) and can be mapped on the attention styles graph.
The words narrow and diffuse describe how our attention is directed. It is narrow when we are focused on something. You are focused on these words reading them now. You can focus (narrow) your attention by looking at the black dot below for a moment.
It is diffuse when we attend stimuli coming from more than one direction or we are simultaneously aware of an object and space around and inside it. You can diffuse your attention by looking at all three black dots at the same time. Another way to diffuse is becoming aware of white space on this screen or space between you and the screen while you are reading these words.
The words objective and immersed describe the relationship between the person who attends and reality. In the objective style self/ego is separated from the reality. You are not the screen you are looking at now and the screen is not you. While you are in this style all objects around you seem separated like the two black dots below.
In the immersed style self/ego connects with something/someone else losing its self awareness. If this text was a good novel you would feel for a main character and live her/his life for the duration of reading. In this style everything merges together and becomes the one, like the two black dots below.
It is good to realise that whatever we do we have to attend it somehow. There are moments when we have to be focused and ‘to the point’ to achieve a specific goal – the narrow style. We dance losing ourselves in a rhythm – the immersed style – or stay in the corner of the dance room frustrated with the DJ’s choice of music the objective style.
Most of us subconsciously adjust an attention style to the circumstances. It usually works well and we simply do not think about it. However, there are situations when this spontaneous attention choice is not effective and we struggle. It may be because some of us overuse a single attention style in everything that we do. Another reason could be lack of knowledge about attention styles and inability to balance them before a particular activity.
The four attention styles theory says that to make our lives happier and more fulfilled we should become attention flexible and balance all four styles. It is surprisingly easy and achievable by many. It affects our mind (reducing the level of stress), our bodies (improving blood pressure, heart rate, etc..), our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
.Now, I will show you how attention styles can be linked to personalities.
The narrow attention style dominant person has to narrow everything down to be able to attend it. Everything must fit in a small but very strong focus. It frames the way of thinking (looking for basing rules in life) and the way of behaving (striving for perfection). For example, this is how Narr would arrange white and black dots.
Narr has to be pedantic and organised to effectively use his focus which he can only sequentially redirect from one thing to another. He makes ‘to do lists’ and detailed plans which he follows religiously. He often finds himself ‘ticking his life off’ instead of living it. Narr loves creating guidelines, protocols and job descriptions. He looks for rules concerning effective use of resources, time, relations with other people, etc. He knows what should happen next, what is the trend, what is expected, what can be approved. He likes to correct, to fix and to understand. His decisions are based on pros and cons lists and ‘common sense’.
Things in his home are in perfect order and everything has its place. He spends a lot of time on cleaning, washing, ironing, dusting before he is ready to work. Narr cannot concentrate in chaos and gets crazy if something redirects his attention against his will (distracts him). He hates losing control of his focus which is everything that he is. As you see, Narr’s life can be very tiring with all these activities which can easily turn into compulsions.
Although the narrow attention seems like limitation it is also an advantage. Narr is able to concentrate on one thing for a long time and commit himself totally. A lot of people he lives and works with appreciate this skill. At the same time it makes him miss opportunities approaching from outside of his focus.
I would like to make it clear. We all sometimes behave like Narr. It is completely natural to plan a busy day to make the most of it. We focus to simply notice something or to move in a chosen direction. We are in this style while reading a book, listening to music or talking to someone. We focus at a computer screen, music from a speaker, a station announcement, smell, flavour, a sensation coming from our body like hunger or pain. The ability to be focused for a long time makes us good listeners, good students, good workers, and good professionals. Good mothers keep their little babies in the center of their attention pushing everything else out of the focus (including their poor husbands at times).
The narrow attention style become a problem only when it is overused and applied to all aspects of life mainly because it makes us exhausted.
Every Narr should practice diffusing.
The diffused attention style dominant people are aware of many stimuli coming from different directions at the same time. It shapes the way they think (multiplying options and choices). It can also make them very indecisive because then cannot focus on logic thinking for too long. Their natural environment is chaos and this is how Diff would leave white and black dots behind him.
Diff cannot focus for too long on one thing but can be easily simultaneously aware of many. It makes him often less effective.
He lacks this gentle sense of order which is so natural for Narr. His desk, his kitchen and his bathroom are always untidy but not necessarily dirty. He never closes the door behind him, he never turns of the light or puts things back in their place. His clothes are not well matched, his hair is unkempt. His stories are chaotic with many side plots and never seem to finish.
Diff fully relies on his intuition when making decisions and he never does ‘pros and cons’ lists. He calls it a gut feeling. However, when it is not strong enough Diff finds it difficult to decide and prioritise so he likes to keep his options open. He stays in unhealthy relationships for too long, he is not bothered with unfinished tasks, he keeps useless things in his flat (instead of throwing them away).
Living in chaos seems like a disadvantage but on the other hand Diff can easily see the big picture and can imagine different aspects of every situation. He easily chooses a new direction from all directions always available for him. He likes to visit new places, to find alternative ways, to meet new people, to try new activities.
As I am sure you have already realised we all sometimes become Diffs and we let chaos enter into our lives. This usually happens during weekends, holidays, time off work and other responsibilities. We associate it with relaxation, leisure and rest. This is the time when we feel distant to our everyday life seeing everything like it is on a big screen. We become sensitive to our intuition, feeling what is really important to us.
When the diffused style monopolise all aspects of life, people become disorganised, restless, incapable of making decisions, and confused in simple everyday situations.
Every Diff should practice focusing.
For the objective attention style dominant people, the World is full of separated objects (everything which can be gained and lost is an object). It includes their life, their partners, their children, things they can buy, their goals, their achievements and their problems. This shapes the way of behaving (possessive, competitive) and the way of feeling (alienated and stressed by ongoing challenges). This is how Ob would picture himself. There is him in the middle and the rest, clearly separated and distant from him.
Ob likes words – I, me, mine. He is very self aware and he easily becomes fascinated with his appearance, his achievements, his brilliance in all aspects of life. At the same time he often feels threatened by people. That is why he feels safe only on the top and he makes a lot of effort to get there. He craves for power, wealth and the attention of others. He dreams about a better job, bigger house, better car, better body and a much better partner. He hopes it can make him feel bigger, superior and most importantly, safer.
It is hard to really connect to Ob. Everyone feels he is not completely open and genuine in his actions. He often uses other people’s love and kindness for his gain. He sees relations between people as transactions. It is because of his hidden fear of losing. Losing things, health, youth, good looking body, position, respect, everything he worked so hard for all his life.
Ob separates even the time, making present, future and past seem as they are three discinct objects. It enables him to set goals in the future and expect ‘the future Ob’ to achieve them. It also enables him to accuse ‘the past Ob’ of things he did wrong according to Ob from the present. There are at least three Obs in one poor head and hundreds of possible conflicts between them. Can you see this madness?
I hope it is clear for you that sometimes we are all fighting or flying for survival (competing for a better position in an office or for a better deal during negotiations). We need this style to describe goals we would like to achieve tomorrow or in the far future.
In this style we separate reality to two (or sometimes more) interconnected parts truly inseparable from each other. Right and left, long and short, big and small, clever and daft exist only when we are in the objective style. It allows us to analyse, dividing and multiplying problems, questions, obstacles. This style is intertwined with triumph and failure, glory and disappointment, contentment and frustration but most importantly with ongoing tension, leading to stress and depression (when problems become overwhelming).
Once the objective style becomes overused people are capable of doing horrible things. They can be malicious, deceitful, insidious, torture, kill and trigger a war.
Every Ob should learn how to connect and harmonise.
People with the immersed attention style dominance are masters of connection. It shapes the way of feeling (compassionate) and the way of behaving (letting go and accepting). This is how Imm would picture himself.
Imm easily makes friends and is liked by everyone. He does a lot of activities which help him to immerse with the reality. Sports like surfing, sailing and gliding help him to connect with nature and get a lot of energy from this connection. He easily becomes passionate about things and has a lot of hobbies. He builds strong bonds with others, animals and nature. Imm is a good listener, sensitive to other people moods and feelings. They feel like he has known them for years. He is caring, compassionate and helpful.
He does not waste time on following his cravings or obsessions as he hasn’t got any. He does not make any goals as he cannot objectify them. It makes it harder to achieve something. At the same time he can easily adjust to changing circumstances not having any specific path to follow. For Narr and Ob, Imm seems lazy, wasting his precious time. For Imm the future is not real as he cannot separate it from the presence and he is just happy.
When we are in the immersed attention style we lose ourselves being fully connected with something or someone. We are immersed when we are in true love and we are ready to commit ourselves completely. It is because we feel like one organism and whatever happens to our partner happens to us. By improving his/her life we improve ours. The same applies to a group of real friends who are happy only when everyone in the group is happy. They are naturally kind and helpful to each other. A similar situation occurs between a mother and her child. She lives through all her baby’s ups and downs feeling as if it is happening to her.
Activities triggering immersed style of attention are called hobbies or passions. We lose ourselves and whatever we do flows through us effortlessly. It is often enough to let go and accept whatever is happening to us and we naturally become immersed.
When the immersed style is over present people seem to not progress in their lives and/or lose their self awareness. They may live someone else’s life, they commit all their affairs to someone including their wealth, health or even life.
Every Imm should learn how to disconnect, to build distance and to take care of himself.
As you can see each attention style comes with its own specific personality ‘baggage’. Please, see a summary below.
The important fact is that attention styles often blend one with another and it is hard to say that someone is purely the narrow or the diffuse attention style dominant.
As you know narrowing (focusing) our attention makes us specific and often requires dividing reality into smaller pieces (objects) which can be fully attended one by one. It means that these two styles are often linked and it is easier to combine them in the narrow/objective attention style. In this style we are aware of the reality filled with separated objects. Every object has its location in an empty space and can be moved in a specific time. This reality is based on doing.
On the other hand diffusing allows us to see the big picture and connect (immerse) with its elements. It means that the diffuse style often comes with the immerse style. The reality in the diffuse/immerse attention style is objectless and timeless and is based on being.
It again translates to personality traits.
Say, if you are similar to Narr you tend to become objective and focus on challenges waiting for you in the future. If you behave like Ob you can easily become oversensitive to details and notice every scratch on your very expensive car.
People who are the narrow/objective attention style dominant take life very seriously and they are exposed to strong emotions. They collect a lot of tension in their minds and their hearts generated by keeping themselves distant from the rest. The more narrow they are the more they strive for perfection dividing all activities to small parts and endlessly verifying their performance. The more objective they are the more frustrated they tend to be with the world not behaving the way they expect. They have their ideal, imagined world in their heads (separated from the real one) and they know how things ‘should’ be done.
The narrow/objective attention style dominant people, are good at moving things forward but they are exposed to unhealthy cravings and obsessions triggered by their feelings.
On the other hand if you tend to diffuse your attention you probably have a natural predisposition to connect smilingly unrelated aspects of your reality which makes you creative. If you are similar to Imm your are always opened to new opportunities surfing on the wave of life which takes you wherever it wants. You may have tendency to loose control (diffuse) of your life and accept whatever is happening to you (immerse), letting things happen not striving perfection taking life as it is.
The diffuse/immersed attention style dominant people enjoy everlasting ‘the now’ but they are not able to form solid plans for the future they cannot imagine. It may stop them from progressing in their lives.