Nathanael Garrett Novosel, June 21 2023

Control Your Attention, Control Your Experience

Magicians (also known as illusionists) are masters of manipulation of your attention. Anyone who has seen Penn and Teller’s act has been introduced to the science behind how they deceive you: they can make an object appear to have moved when it hasn’t; they can make it appear to be somewhere when it has actually moved; and they can make you focus on something innocuous while the “trick” they perform is happening somewhere else. In effect, they are controlling your experience by controlling your attention, and what you see as a result appears to be impossible—hence the term “magic”.

Not surprisingly, then, knowing this you can control others’ experiences with this as well. Disney does this by making fairy tales seemingly come to life in front of you by creating an entire world and immersing you in it. Gone are all of the distractions of daily life: mortgages, chores, work, and responsibilities. For the duration of your vacation, you are transported into a world of princesses and intergalactic wars. You do this, too, every time you deliver exemplary service to a customer or swing your child in the air and make noises like an airplane. Bringing pinnacle experiences to people can become something you can hone and improve upon to deliver happiness and wonder to others.

The great thing is that, once you understand this, you can do it to yourself, too. There are many rules that people follow to control their attention and experience so that they minimize the unnecessary impact of stress on their lives:

All of these examples have one thing in common: you are intentionally manipulating your own attention to influence your resulting experience. If you want to reduce your stress, expose yourself to less stress. If you don’t want to get mad at world events for no reason, don’t read about them. If you don’t want to have bad experiences, avoid bad situations. All of these approaches are ways to keep yourself focused on things that are beneficial, pleasant, or constructive.

Note that there is a fine line here between laser focus and avoidance. Yes, if you do drugs instead of addressing your problems, you are practicing avoidance and not positive experience optimization. However, if you bring up your problems in every conversation even if there is nothing that you can do to improve the situation, you are unnecessarily wallowing in misery and not giving yourself a reprieve by focusing on things that can improve your mood and life.

If you want to maximize your positive experiences in life, then you have to minimize the negative impact of negative experiences as they try to creep into your mind during other parts of your life. If work is stressful, you need to give yourself time to relax at home or face trouble sleeping and stressful family relationships. If your home life is stressful, it can negatively affect your work. If you have a problem with a friend or society, they can strain your relationships with others. In today’s world of always-connect social media and smart phones, we can literally let the weight of all of our problems and the world’s problems weigh heavily on us because they area always sitting there in our pockets to remind us that they exist. This ever-presence of negativity can be extremely detrimental and has led to a lot of anxiety and depression in the average person today.

If you are exposing yourself to a lot of unnecessary stress, practice controlling your attention to control your experience. Meditate, take up a physical activity, apply rules to keep certain stressors out of your home, bedroom, or workplace, and take a few seconds to “reset” yourself as you enter into a new phase of your day where you have a new or singular focus that requires your attention. No matter what method you use, this practice of keeping your mind focused on what it needs or wants to and putting everything else out of your mind can be very beneficial to your mental health and well-being.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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