Controlling vs Controlled Attention
Last Updated: 2019-08-08 18:04

I often think about activities we can engage in as one of two types: activities in which we're directing our attention and activities where our attention is being sucked in.

Some examples of activities where we control our attention:

  • You are drawing a picture of a house, and you are thinking about what part to draw next.
  • You are going for a walk, and you pick a path to go down.
  • You are writing down your thoughts for the day in a journal.

Some examples of activities where our attention is controlled:

  • You are reading a book, and the story pulls you in.
  • You are playing a video game.
  • You are watching a TV show.

Or, something like that. The key here is to pay attention to if you're doing a "getting sucked in" activity or a "mindfully plotting your way" activity. It's not exactly the best distinction, though. If you think about it, most of the time, we're quite entranced. Mindful deliberation doesn't seem to come into play more than, say, 20% of the time. The other 80% seems to more largely consist of a state of perhaps diminished awareness, save for the task at hand. Maybe the default is that we're always in a semi-state of flow, or some other mode where our attention is being sucked in.

Perhaps a more nuanced view thinks more about going in and out of flow states. And some states of commandeered attention can be good or bad, depending on our values. But it becomes less about always being in control of your attention (we waver and can get sucked into so many things!) but it's more about strategically picking the right things to get sucked into. You accept the fact that being mindful all of the time is costly and unsustainable, so instead you strive

Which brings us back to Attractor Theory again.

But what I care about here is less about trying to find the most accurate model of things. Rather, there's something about the "staying in control of your attention" Mood or Aesthetic that I find rather interesting.