Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Aware of What?

After I posted Well Practiced, Yet Terrible, my friend Renee and I had several email exchanges regarding everything from regretting lost barns to the importance of spelling words correctly. Much of this was done in the context of "awareness".  Regarding spelling, Renee pointed out a couple of "especially lovable" examples of words I'd misspelled in my posts, that my misspellings may prove distracting to readers, and that I might benefit from increased spelling-awareness. Renee likened my spelling-unawareness to Butch's string-buzzing unawareness (see Well Practiced, Yet Terrible), and her string-tuning unawareness.


It was a fun exchange and it got me to thinking. When I wrote about awareness, I'd left out an important component: focus. To increase awareness is somewhat a misnomer. You're always aware of something (or many things). The challenge is not to increase awareness, the challenge is to focus it. So I give you Teflon's Postulate of Awareness.

Awareness can neither be created nor destroyed; 
it can only be directed and redirected.

So, assuming that you're of a finite nature, the question is one of priorities and (going back to yesterday's post A Good Idea) stop-lists. In order to become more aware of one thing, one must become less aware of another. You can't add to your focus; you can only shift it.

Take Teflon's Postulate of Awareness. As I typed, I was aware that "neither" is always accompanied by "nor", whereas "either" is always accompanied by "or". I was aware that you separate independent clauses with a semicolon (;) and dependent clauses with a colon (:).   I was aware of the various methods used in HTML to center and italicize text. I was aware of the CSS (cascading style-sheet) code required to change the font-size of the text.

This awareness proved useful. However, it was also a distraction.  I could have just typed two sentences instead of one sentence with two independent clauses. Most people wouldn't have noticed nor understood the difference. I could have skipped the text-formatting and who really cares whether you use "nor" or "or"?

(Even now I'm pausing to think about the placement of a question-mark when a sentence ends with quoted text. The rules are different for exclamations and question-marks than for periods. Sigh...)

Point is, no matter how fast I process all the above-described elements of my awareness, it takes time and more importantly, it diffuses my focus. My awareness is finite. I can't be more aware here without being less aware there.

Fortunately brief lapses in focus rarely affect anything in perceivable ways (that is unless your awareness is focused on perceiving those lapses). However, when you're in a high-performance situation, one that demands concentrated focus, then even the smallest lapse can have dramatic effect. Alternatively, if your focus bounces from minor lapse to minor lapse, your awareness can suffer from a sort of repetitive stress injury. Without concentrating too much on anything in particular, you can feel completely exhausted.

Having a set of symptoms and behaviors that put me into the category of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, my biggest struggle is not with increasing my level of awareness; it's with decreasing my level of distraction (the diffusion of my awareness). I have difficulty doing this in real-time. I'm often way down the rabbit-hole before I even notice that I've entered it.

So what do I do?

I do a lot of stuff that doesn't work. I do some things that work alright. However, the thing that works best for me is to simply decide a priori that I'm not going to pay any attention to anything that doesn't immediately contribute in a significant way to the task at hand. I define the specific elements of my planned unawareness and set a strong intention before I begin telling myself, "No matter what, I am absolutely not going to..."

The tricky part is that most of my banished elements of awareness are "good", even "valuable".  However, they don't significantly contribute to what I want to accomplish in the moment.

So it's not about increasing awareness; it's about honing focus. To hone a sharp blade, you shave away metal; you don't add to it.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

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