So I have this problem. I call it the seesaw problem.
My interests constantly change and my focus and attention seesaws randomly.
It looks something like this.
The seesaw above represents my brain’s focus on a particular subject.
At present time, my brain is heavily focused on “Interest A”, pushing the seesaw down in that direction.
Right now, Interest A is personal finance and investing. I’ve always been interested in financial markets, but I’m engrossed even more now than ever before (how cliche).
But I’ve been through this fad before.
In a few months…the seesaw looks like this.
Things have now changed.
Financial markets remain an interest, but their weight on my mind has shifted.
Now I’m mentally and emotionally invested in something else.
And before long, I bounce to some other interest, and another. Seesawing back and forth while my interests interchange at random intervals.
Having many interests does not immediately create a problem, but shifting focus so frequently gives me a low score when it comes to grit. 1
As a positive, my lack of grit makes me similar to Da Vinci. But on the other hand….it means my focus and attention is easily stolen.
So what right?
Insert the sobering realities of our finite attention.
In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s exploration of the limits of consciousness he sets an upper limit for the potential events we experience at 185 billion.
From his book, Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience, he continues…”If we consider the amount of data the brain could theoretically process, the number might be too low; but if we look at how people actually use their minds, it is definitely much too high. In any case, an individual can experience only so much. Therefore the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the quality of life.” 2
Visualize below. A bunch of circles to represent potential events and experiences we could devote our attention to. Those in red represent the areas we have the capacity devote our attention to.
Visualizing it this way gives me a bit of anxiety, particularly as it pertains to the future of attention and consumption. The internet has made every possible subject accessible to anyone with a connection. While this has unquantifiable benefits for so many people (myself included), it can also lead to the seesaw problem.
The seesaw problem, or my constantly swaying interests is competing against the finite attention I have left to give. So how do I stop seesawing, and choose the best things to give my attention to moving forward?
According to Csikszentmihaly, his theory of optimal experience, or flow, comes when people become so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.
Is my seesawing just me journeying to find “flow?” Or perhaps worse, the showcasing of a major problem of focus and attention?