Attention = Power
I was listening to a Dan Sullivan recording about the power of ATTENTION. (Dan is one of my primary gurus for anything creative or entrepreneurial.) Dan was making the point that
Where we put our attention defines who we are and shapes what we will become.
This got me thinking. I asked myself, “Where do I put MY attention?”
Most people, Dan said, put theirs on family, career, community and politics, health, finances, etc.
Not me. Thinking about it, I realized that I put my attention on the unknown or as-yet-unrevealed content of whatever book or story I’m working on.
If you’re an artist, a mathematician, a composer, a theoretical physicist, an entrepreneur or anybody in that general universe, what you’re interested in is something that doesn’t exist yet.
Or, perhaps more accurately, something that does exist but whose contours have not yet revealed themselves.
This is the creative life.
This is the artistic calling.
It’s our vocation, yours and mine, not so much to deal with What Is, i.e. the material world and immediate matters of mortal flesh. Our calling is to bring forth What Will Be.
Are we weird? Are we crazy? Susan Cain, in her very thought-provoking book, Quiet, makes the case for introverts—not as geeks and outsiders but as the indispensable creators of society’s future.
In my writing work, I feel sometimes like a spelunker entering a dark cave. I’m exploring an inner world, a world that exists only in imagination. My only source of illumination is the light on the peak of my miner’s helmet. My attention is on the dark. I shine my light and try to see what’s there.
If that makes me a weird or crazy introvert, so be it. That’s where my attention is, and that’s where I’m gonna keep it.
Thank you very much dear Steve,
I have heard of mr. Sallivan, but never gave him a chance. Maybe the time is now. I also just ordered Action by mr. McKee, holding my breath because it was a bit expensive!
Damn, everything is dark in the cave and in the dark there are not only treasures -actually, I think treasures are rare because the cave is in many ways equal to the endlessness of possibilities, and possibilities are more dangerous than rewarding. There are also gaps in there, cliffs, crags, hunters, boars, bears, wolves, snakes, dark deserts, many dead ends and labyrinths of no avail, many dead bodies maybe, and a multiple of other complexities. That’s why out of the cave, at the ‘city’, we are secure, but we must work for it and belong at one or more of it’s levels -or we can be on it’s higher grounds where we are intelligent investors or capable entrepreneurs. It’s not bad, it’s a great creation of humanity and maybe Socrates gave it a more holly substance.
But strangely we now work in that black cave. How did we end up here? Because of the flaws of the city, if you ask me. And the flaws of men and women who raised us maybe. We do not go 9 to 5 to the city’s office. We are like self employed workers, and good and hard work is our most powerful tool. Without it, we will only be bones of explorers, hit by many arrows or teeth.
So many times I’d rather choose the easy 8 hours of a secure job, not those where you get fired for nothing, but the other ones where you have a steady paycheck and a pension for life. And besides that do whatever I wish, free from economic threats. But this wasn’t my route for good or for bad.
And behold -there I am in the caves! Or better, with one leg in the cave and one at the city’s courtyard.
I can think of two things that may be worth the cave’s life:
One is the great treasures that may hide in them, while in the city those treasures are found and shared among many and many times certain people. Treasures that one must explore, and thus treasures that will require of us to unravel inner treasures first.
Another is the thrill of exploring. We connect to the prehistoric man/woman, the source of the core of man’s/woman’s soul. There is Nothing for granted, only a dark jungle up ahead.
And a third one may be that we unravel our Self and not the automations of the city’s worker who has everything they may need by only following the rules. We indeed can bring to the light new plans for the future, better plans, watching the city from a small distance.
Yes I believe we are crazy.
But I also believe that That’s not what determines somebody’s future. It’s just a side of Life. A side of beauty and awe also.
Great work-week, you all cavemen and cavewomen! Same to all city men and women. Focus on the paper or die trying.
Tolis, keep digging for treasure.
Ah, I must Jackie! We must.
We are crazy 🙂 We hear voices, create alter egos, and see visions. Certifiable maybe. Joking aside, we cannot change who we are!! We’ve been bitten by the creator’s bug. It won’t go away, Tolis. Resistance tries to force us to into boxes. Some of us are circles in a square! I support you. Steve supports us! The Universe and love at its source does, too. We wouldn’t feel this calling in our hearts if it weren’t meant to be. Remain open, curious, and keep working! FOCUS. Yes, Steve. I will focus…
I LOVE Susan Cain. Her book “Bittersweet” is just as good as “Quiet”. I love this community here–I feel like for once in my life I have found my tribe. Hope everyone has a lovely week–full of music, writing, creating and productivity!!
Thank you so much Kate! You believe, and I can feel that when you specifically believe in something, you really do.
It is so paradoxical that we seek for treasures in the absolute darkness, isn’t it? Well, at least the kids inside us must be very happy. No doubt there is some reason why people like Steve tell us to do exactly that.
So into the Dark then! With the most wisdom that we can put into it <3
I am now searching for Cain's books. There must be some reason you two write about them, and it must be a quite important one..
Your thought about cave dwelling preferences might be influenced from the flaws of the people that raised us sent my mind in a tangential direction. We have operated a small animal rescue for 17 years, and I began to notice that so many of the people involved with animal rescue were single and often LGB.
It slowly began to dawn on me that animals don’t hurt people, people hurt people. The animals only hurt when they pass. Then that pain is nearly unbearable.
Then it made me think about the solitary journey of artists–and I wonder if there is also an ingredient of suffering from others that is required for artistry.
Then I thought…maybe what artists do, not all the time, but frequently enough, is to go into the cave and reinterpret the suffering to find its gold. Maybe artists are the ones who explain to the world why the suffering happened, and puts a spin of meaning and glory to it.
Thank you very much dear Brian,
Reinterpreting the suffering? What a beautiful thought. Taking the suffering and turning it into a vessel of wisdom and beauty. Being thus so realistic as well, because suffering is always real.
I know one divorced mother who lost her son. I felt him like my big and inspiring brother when I was a kid, one of those young but older than me lads with the rare (and dangerous) trait of charisma. You can’t just forget those souls. People have abandoned her, because of her strange freedom -but she is nurturing so many cats and a dog. I admire her freedom and generosity, but oh, how I wish she had wisdom. Damn, life kicks hard, doesn’t it? I have noticed what you say about lonely people in other instances too. And I only wish that they all had more wisdom. Many of them had great charisma and could really bring something to the world. So I guess wisdom is the most invaluable treasure in that cave. Now, the next question is what is wisdom.
Thanks again, wish you a good agon!
Very thought provoking this morning.
I have one dear friend, C. who will ask, “what are you working on?” C. is genuinely interested in the answer. I took her into the office with strategically placed files and note cards littering the desk to give her an overview. I explained that I had the basic plot, understory, a few chapters, and roughly sketched characters in pencil.(I’m more of a painter.) I was waiting for more elements to show themselves. C. was under the impression that a writer sat down with thoughts of a beginning, middle, and end of a story, then wrote,
Some stories may flow like that, but not always, at least not for me. I shared scraps of paper with hastily written notes. “I bet you’ve written on your hand?” She said. And my leg, I confessed.
This began a conversation about the muse.
I explained that I had to wait for my muse to give me what was needed. I was but a channel she worked through. (This friend I trust with all my weirdness.) This particular middle grade story though ran through my head as an animated feature and not in order.
C said that possibly my muse was tipping back the bottle. “Or eating mushrooms and not the variety I’m fond of.” I said. We had a laugh and an idea for a collaboration to bring the characters to life. C. is a hell of a pencil artist.
My point? Steve’s line: Or, perhaps more accurately, something that does exist but whose contours have not yet revealed themselves.
We’ll open ourselves to the tipsy muses and pay attention. We’ll see what comes to light.
Wish you all a great productive week and may your muses be sober.
May your muses be sober! Classic!
I’m so glad you have a friend like that, Jackie! I have a few myself, and I wouldn’t be the same person without them.
I’ve been known to jot a few notes on my hand, too — but I (1) got tired of (a) them rubbing off before I remembered to transfer them to a more permanent place, (b) getting busted when they showed up on my face because I’d rested my hand against it, and (2) saw a TED speaker with them thanks to a creative camera angle and decided, “Never again.”
LOL. I never ended up with notes on my face, but I did buy a few wonderful, tidy notebooks.
May we all be blessed with at least one person who understands the crazy of creation.
Socrates is supposed to have said: “If I am wise is because I know I don’t know.” Robert Parker wrote in his book, COLD SERVICE – I.O.U. “You need to know what you know, what you don’t know and what you have to know. And you need to have it in mind – you need to know what part of what you want to do can be done now and what it needs to wait for.” What I have come to know; coming from a place of “the unknown” is the best place TO BE!!!!
This post really got me thinking, Steven… Especially since its topic matches something I was musing about this very morning. It occurred to me that the creative life is a wonderful form of escapism. We don’t like the reality surrounding us? No problem! We can shift our attention to our imagination and mentally live in a more interesting world.
Interestingly, the book Quiet is currently on my reading list. Based on your post, I’ll move it up to the top of the pile.
Thank you for the inspiration!
Law 7. Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit. Never do for yourself what the efforts of others can do for you. Use their wisdom and knowledge to further your own cause.
I love the cave analogy here, Steve. Even makes me think of Plato. The story is right there in the cave.
And we don’t know how long we’re going to be in the cave, or what we’ll find, and it’s something we largely do alone. Goes very much against our human hardwiring to work in groups and quickly have something tangible to show for our efforts.
I’m reading David Milch’s autobiography, and a quote popped out that made me think of the Writing Wednesdays clan:
“It increasingly seems that life is something that happens to to you and art the opportunity to understand what’s transpired. You need only to be brave.”
Sam, thanks for the quote. Bravery is definitely required.
Love the quote. If I had the power to change any narrative, it would be to dump victimhood and reinvigorate courage and bravery within our culture.
Ditto, B. Good quote to bring to the table, Sam.
I’m the guy who stays in touch with people. I call my old high school buddies. I reach out to my former military friends. We never talk sports, politics, weather. I have opinions in all of those, but it is never what we discuss.
One buddy is particularly difficult to reach. He’s hyper busy. He called me back the other day and said, “Bro, I hope you understand why I don’t take your calls very often. I know I’ll need an hour–and the discussion nearly always requires that I have some time to think longer about what we discussed.”
Just this week I was trying to explain what I think is required in leaders–and I said, “Leaders don’t see their people as they are. They see their potential. They speak to their potential selves, not their current selves.”
I’ve had about 4-5 instances in the past 6 weeks where people have brought up the topic of coaching to me. I’ve dismissed coaching mostly because of the caricatures I have in my mind, “Lululemon clad thirty-something female or the hipster man-bun guy who have not done anything in their lives, but are convinced they can life-coach another to success…”
As I was reading the blog and comments, especially about seeing what isn’t there–I realized this is how I see people. Maybe these constant nudges about coaching aren’t happenstance, but serendipity.
Like Kate said above, this site is an absolute goldmine. Likely lots of introverts, but a safe place for everyone to toss spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.
Your comments are a goldmine, Brian. I may not always respond, but I read all of Steve’s blog comments. Quite a vibe this corner of the internet is (in my best Yoda voice). 🙂
Heart warmed emoji back atcha!
Something that doesn’t exist yet, and even something we don’t know should exist. I definitely both find joy and horror in this—the possibility that all my labor to create this nebulous something could lead to something beautiful, or something completely irrelevant.
As I was reading, I was thinking about what Alan Watts had to say about “two types of consciousness.” The spotlight and the floodlight. Then Steve brought in the spelunker and source-of-illumination metaphor. Good stuff today.
My attention’s on my work, always. I just didn’t realize it until I read this post.
I’m forever scanning the horizon, metaphorically speaking, for a portrait of the moment. How can I bring this moment into such focus it strikes a chord in someone’s soul?
The portraits fly by, almost like I’m flipping through a sketchbook, until one of them feels useful enough to share. Not a bad way to live!
Two other thoughts on focus.
Last winter my husband and I had an unusually long string of accident-free days. If you’ve been married a while, you know how welcome that is. But it isn’t an accident. “We have exactly the same life we had a few months ago, when things weren’t nearly as sunny,” I told him. “The only difference is what we’re focusing on.”
A few years ago we stayed at an Airbnb where the owner had a pet turtle. Every night I’d tiptoe to the bathroom, through the kitchen where that turtle held court in his cramped aquarium. His eyes followed my every move. It was creepy. After a couple of nights I had a stroke of what felt like genius. I decided not to look at the turtle anymore. I mean, what would it do? Chastise me? I don’t think so. It would just keep on being a turtle. Now when I catch myself distracted by something I pretend it’s a turtle. Silly? Sure. But it works!
Maureen, I love the turtle story. The friend, C., from the above story just sent me this:
Ships don’t sink because of the water AROUND them. Ships sink because of the water that gets IN them.
Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.
That includes turtles.
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The fact that James thought about this topic in the 19th century shows that we have long struggled with the conflict between our values and the temptation to be distracted. But, we now live in a world where distractions are far greater than they were in the 1890s.
Just love your post this week Steve.
When we shine the light from our “miners helmet” and begin to see something that’s there, was is it there already or did our giving attention to it play a part of its being created?
I bet you’d say, “I don’t care. I’m just glad I finally found it!”
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I remember reading somebody’s blog post recently and there being a reference to “writing into the dark” and I felt some relief because I don’t know any other way to write. My characters guide me, not the other way around.
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You creatives are soooo lucky… and brilliant! You have the ability to see, create, and change things without much difficulty. Your creativity is only limited by your imagination, and most creatives I know have a very prolific imagination. I am [very unfortunately] not a creative and have always struggled with being creative. My older brother was a creative, and he could always see and remember things that I never saw or thought of. It was almost magical. I have read books on how to increase one’s creativity, and have had some very small success, but never ever as much as those born with creative talent (as I do believe that many are born with creativity), or those adept at exercising that talent. It is truly a remarkable, precious gift!
So keep on spelunking, writing on your hands, writing in the dark, mentally escaping the present, thinking what turtles would think, talking for hours with friends, etc. You creative folks on this blog have a true gift of creativity that many of us have to work so hard at trying to develop and, at best, we succeed at only mimicking or, rather, “aping” (no offense to apes).
God bless all of you.
I love this! You ARE creative!
Makes me think of my ATTENTION as a coach – the next practice, the next match, the next VICTORY. It”s my job to think this way.
Thanks Steven Pressfield.
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The “cave” reminds me of a dream I had when I studied writing. It was an ink-black night on a Florida beach, just a sprinkling of stars. I was lost. I had rolled up my jeans and was walking in the surf. The foam, icy eddies, pooled around my ankles. I could see nothing, just felt the sting of the salt. Suddenly, a mysterious light appeared beneath the waves. It extended about two feet in front of me moving forward, lighting my way. I had no idea where I was going, but followed the light up the entire coastline of Florida.
It was one of those defining dreams I guess.
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