Paying Attention to the Obvious

Because I consume a lot of content, I frequently read things that overlap with other things I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, blogs I’m following, etc. I try to pay extra attention to those things when they happen, believing that those serendipitous moments often happen for a reason.

Recently, that forced me to pay more attention to…attention. At the same time I was reading Finding Flow, which I blogged about here, and learning about the importance of attention to achieving flow, I was also participating in a class at my church called The Journey. In preparation for a recent session, we read Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and the Lamp Under the Jar.

The Parable of the Sower is all about the different ways that people receive the Word of God and what kind of fruit it allows them to bear. And it turns out that the difference boils down to one thing, and it’s Jesus’ instruction from Luke 8:18a: “Pay attention to how you listen!”

The message was the same to each individual. The difference was in how much attention the recipient paid to it. This made me think about the importance of paying attention. It’s so easy to get on auto-pilot in our busy, distracted world and fail to pay attention to everything happening around us.

It reminds me of the famous Kenyon College graduation speech from novelist David Foster Wallace, this is water. Click here for full transcript and audio. But I really like the shorter clip from this video:

Stop and pay attention this week. See how it causes you to order your life differently.

Finding flow in reading

This morning, I was listening to Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who originated the concept of Flow. Something he wrote about reading and flow jumped out at me. But to understand it, you’ll have to understand the concept of flow.

Flow, which is also known as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

As Csikszentmihalyi points out, flow can happen with any activity, but is most common where the level of challenge to the person and the level of skill in the person are both high (see image).

Now, back to the book. Here’s what Csikszentmihalyi said about the difference between two common leisure activities, reading books and watching television:

People who view television more often than the average tend also to have worse jobs and worse relationships. In a large scale study in Germany, it was found that the more often people report reading books, the more flow experiences they claimed to have. While the opposite trend was found for watching television. The most flow was reported by individuals who read a lot and watched little TV. The least by those who read seldom and watched often.

As I said in my last post, we cut the cable cord long ago and I read, on average two books a week. I can tell you that this quote is definitely true of my experience. I can easily get lost in a book, but rarely enjoy watching television. In fact, last night I was watching a movie with my family and went to bed before the conclusion because I was tired. Then, I read for a while before going to sleep.

Do you get into flow when reading? If so, what books challenge you? If not, what gets you into flow experiences?