In the picture above, you can see a boy pulling a container filled with water. There are many people in Africa who are forced to walk many hours to collect water. They usually carry randomly shaped containers on their shoulders. It seems this boy (or someone he knew) had the idea to use a circular container to be able to pull or push it and carry more water with less effort. In this post I will use this example to show you that we need all attention styles to successfully solve a problem.
First we need to notice and describe the problem using narrow and objective attention styles. Being narrow helps us to notice the problem and to cut off distractions which could redirect our focus. Objectivity enables us to separate ourself from the problem and describe it as if it was an object floating in front of us – ‘there is you and the problem you need to solve, two separate objects’.
When we are in the narrow attention style we are very specific, detailed, organised and systematic. When we add objectivity to it we have a good overview of the problem and all its aspects without our individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings.
The problem is – we need water to survive and we need to deliver it to our homes from far away. Let’s focus and collect data about what we are capable of and what is available for us. What kind of ways of transport we have and how and from where we can collect water. How many of us can go every day and how much water we can carry. And finally, what we can do to make delivering water easier and more efficient.
Once the problem is well diagnosed we can let ourselves diffuse and immerse. Diffusing lets us see the problem together with its surroundings, having simultaneous access to our knowledge and experience. Immersing is a synonym of connecting which means that when we are diffused enough some elements of the reality start connecting which represents finding a solution to the problem.
In other words first we see the big picture which includes the problem and literally everything else at the same time. Then we wait and after some time some elements of the picture become connected and solutions start emerging.
Ok, we know a lot about water, how we can carry it, where we can find it, etc. Now, let’s stop thinking, let diffuse our attention and let our new, fresh ideas emerge in our minds. Close your eyes and start the diffusing attention exercise. Once the idea happens to you, do not try to memorise it, just let it flow and expect another one. They will come one after another and most likely the next one will be better than the previous. Just diffuse your attention, do not try to force anything, just let it happen to you.
When the solution (or more than one solution) is found, the problem somehow disappears and we say – ‘I cannot see any problem here’, as if the floating object in front of us has literally faded out. What really happens is that we have immersed with the problem. This is the famous ‘aha’ moment. The problem and its solution become part of our experience. A part of us.
We will know we found a good solution when we all feel a sense of relief and peace. We will smile to ourselves having the impression that something good happened and we created a bit more happiness in the World.
As you see, you need to be attention flexible and apply all attention styles (better if all at the same time) to successfully deal with a problem. This is the reason why I believe that attention flexibility is a true definition of intelligence and wisdom.
To find good solutions we can also build teams consisting of people with different attention preferences. They will be a lot more effective applying the attention styles most natural for them. The smallest team can consist of two people – the narrow/objective and the diffused/immersed attention style dominant. They will have a lot better chance of being successful and now, you know why.
You can see the whole process on the graphs below.
You can try this exercise to practice it. I have made it free for you for another week (keep your eyes closed during the whole exercise).
Flexible attention is an ability to alternate between narrow attention (focused) and diffused attention (broad) or to apply both at the same time.
Narrowing makes us specific but requires dividing reality into smaller pieces (objects). Diffusing allows us to see the big picture and connect (immerse) with its elements.
Pain, anxiety and problems make the attention narrow and objective. We can self help ourselves by diffusing and immersing our attention.