In what am I present? This question could be one of the contemplations of Zen masters, but its value can provide good material for our daily work. Me for myself or me for others? Actor or a writer? Look at what becomes the backdrop of your life, whether it expresses, what it truly represents you.

Being an attentive individualist in a world full of conformity is quite a challenge. It's easy to get lost here, so it's worth asking yourself every now and then:

  • What am I in? Who am I for—myself, or maybe just for others?
  • If my attention only goes towards pleasing others, including gaining their approval or acceptance, how much space is left for myself?
  • What if I live with the conviction that I have to give and sacrifice, even if I do not see the cost of myself?

Social conditioning

Human attention often begins at the point where your conditioning grows. These may be dictated by traditions and the culture in which we have grown up—society, family, or religion. Nevertheless, people often exhibit behaviors that they classify as values without considering how many of these we automatically adopt as a result of social conditioning. Thus, for example, we may accept social roles to which we give attention, as it were, "automatically," because we have absorbed a set of behaviors.

It is worth pointing out here that the use of attention can also be the subject of social manipulation and is therefore already abusive. To this end, I will refer to the philosophical term 'nominosum', which was coined by Rufolf Otto and often quoted by C.G. Jung and means actions of the environment that are not dependent on our will but evoke extreme feelings—mostly admiration and fear at the same time. This set of feelings can arise in extreme faith communities or as a result of the influence of gaslighters who manipulate the environment by invoking their authority for the benefit of their side. From this position, it is important to analyze and be able to filter what deserves our attention and who is using it for their benefit.

The places to which we direct our attention can also push against our value system—you comply or go your own way. From this point, you have a choice of two different paths on which your attention: staying on mental holiday or setting off on a journey into the unknown.

Learning to validate the values and behaviors to which we give our attention is a long-term project. It requires time, regular reflection, the rejection of hasty judgments, and, above all, building a relationship with yourself. And paradoxically, it is this, as a fundamental task that seems to be the challenge at the start of conscious attention management.

Withdrawal: giving

In order to give someone attention, you must have something to go out into the world with. Our attention should be firstly focused on ourselves, inwards, to give us time to establish—who am I? There is a proverb that goes, "Solomon cannot pour from the empty bottle," and it captures the foundation of the problem. Rumi once said:

Yesterday I was smart and wanted to change the world. Today I am smart, so I am changing myself.


Rumi's words draw attention to the fact that we often fail to direct our attention to ourselves, and as a result, we can build the world on illusions, be vulnerable to the expectations of others, or try to change the world. Meanwhile, every change starts from within. Building anything always starts from within.

It is the same with the aspect of giving. We are culturally brought up with the idea that we have to give. And there are no discounts or exceptions. If you don't give, they'll call you selfish, a snob, a child of the millennium, a rebel, a freak, etc. If you give in once, you start giving in more often. So you give what others expect you to give, until you come to a giveaway. And so you can gradually lower your bar of tolerance, accompanied by passive permission for the loosening of your own boundaries. Meanwhile, it is the self-determination of the environment about us that is transgressed. Thus, we create the self-reinforcing spiral of our own decisions, which come out of a sense of lack, filling the void with the attention of others, which we feed for the benefit of the general public. Life then becomes the sum of many transgressions: we try to feed the world at our expense without looking into the losses incurred. This is where conformism begins and individualism ends. And at this point, we reach a turning point: in order to give, sometimes one has to withdraw and turn to oneself. Only then can I make myself available to others. And only then will I know what to give and how much to give.

Voice of the crowd

Some people dismiss themselves in favor of what the crowd offers. Focusing on what is mass, what entertains, and what releases you from thinking is a shortcut. It is a path through the beaten track. If you follow the path of the crowd, you cut yourself off from your own resources because you are not questioning or creating your own ideas. Focusing on our surroundings freezes our potential.

Relying on others is like putting your own attention to sleep, then redirecting to the collective. You do not have to speak in your own words; you speak in the words of the crowd.

We are used to a world where others impose thinking patterns, norms, and schemes. What if we were to reverse this rule and mandate individual thinking? Establish thinking based on the conscious management of attention. Reversing it and flipping it on itself could come as a shock for some people. Fear of creation or making their own decisions takes away some people's will to be proactive. However, if this were to be given back to people, like throwing them into a pool of water, would they learn to swim?

Managing attention consciously

In order to consciously manage attention, it is useful to be aware of some important scientific facts. The research of N. Derakshan and L. Shoker shows that how we react and what we pay attention to is dictated by our personality traits. For example, if a person has an extrovert personality, they pay attention to positive stimuli and, in this way, respond with double force. The same rule applies to any other personality type, e.g., a person who often feels anger reacts first with the same emotion, thereby attracting situations that make them feel angry. The same is true of the principle of fear, as well as a whole range of other emotions.

Referring to this research, we can conclude that a person is like a sower; what he sows in his mind, he displays on the 'screen' of his life.

Directing your own attention to what is mine, i.e., selectively making choices—what I want to listen to and what I no longer want to listen to—also involves a lot of responsibility. Not everyone will accept your need for sovereignty, and you may become vulnerable to exclusion. The aim of the crowd is to fit you into the common rules of the game. Sometimes people are also used to throwing their everyday problems at you, leaving no space for what is yours. Consciously managing your attention, then, is directing it to what resources me rather than littering my mind. You have the power to make choices in relation to your resources.

Time for understanding

Directing your attention to areas of interest should also involve a certain amount of etiquette. For example, you shouldn't rush, because in a hurry, you might not grasp the value of the things in question by judging them too hastily. Sometimes some things require more work and deeper understanding, all of which brings us back to our starting point, which is to work on ourselves. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry gave a similar thought in "The Little Prince":

People have too little time to know anything (...) they fall into the rapid current of time, no longer remembering what they are looking for. Waving their hands frantically, going round and round in the same point. It makes no sense.

(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "The Little Prince")

Shaping selective attention requires some training; you need to develop your personal insight—what you prioritize, what feeds you, and what clutters your mind. Prioritizing yourself is just one component of the attention management aspect. Equally important is improving your ability to recognize and deal with value conflicts in your life. It is possible to have a structured value system through which, when faced with a conflict situation, you begin to send out over-reactive responses and finally extract what you are giving undue attention to. It is common that only situations like this turn us inward.

Are sovereignty and selective thinking doomed to exclusion? Or is exclusion just the beginning? Being aware of the distribution of one's attention and managing it in harmony with oneself can be the gateway to the new. Are you ready for it?


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