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William James and the Pushup

Awareness is a funny thing.  When I first started this project, I knew one of the most important and fruitful thing I could do was start paying attention, close attention to every single detail of my experience.  I have made a habit of that for most of my adult life and it has made a huge difference…there is nothing like really being where you are.

However, with this project I have taken that skill to a whole level.  And for good reason.  To explore doing 3415 pushups in one hour, every single intervention that contributes one more pushup is important… just as every diversion that in some way derogates the count.

And that exploration starts with me by paying attention.

Therefore, what is paying attention and how do I do it?  This is one of the first questions added to my journal for this project and for a good reason. If I was going to do this, I was not going to get there on will power or just by grinding out a bunch of pushups.  I just do not have that sort of energy…maybe 45 years ago but not today.  (45 years ago, I would have thought that anyone who did this sort of thing was crazy anyway).

If I had a chance at succeeding, I needed to pay attention to every single detail and chunk those details down to smaller and smaller pieces until I could understand something.

Therefore, asking, “How do I pay attention” was important and before I could answer that, I needed to explore what paying attention was.

The answer to that question has been the jabber of just about every single philosopher, religious leader, and thinker of the ancient and modern world so you will be glad to know I figured it out.  (For all you critical souls out there that was a joke).

Attention is one of the most intensely studied topics within psychology and cognitive neuroscience. William James in his Principles of Psychology (1890) wrote, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought…It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state.”

So paying attention is an active process wherein we selective narrow or focus our consciousness and receptivity, wherein we concentrate and focus on something at the exclusion of everything else.

OK, how do you pay attention…for instance learning the two-step, riding a bike, driving a car, or learning a foreign language?

I suspect there are thousands of ways to pay attention.  My next post I will outline in detail how I go about paying attention within the domain of this project.