Focus is the meta-skill of life. The habit of habits. The skill of skills. In the words of Dan Koe in his book The Art Of Focus, "The ability to focus your attention on a meaningful goal, holding that in the back of your mind as a distraction repellent, knowing exactly how to achieve it through prior experience, and refocusing on the choice in front of you is a superpower."
We are at a pivotal moment in human evolution.
Attention spans are shrinking. Bodies are getting softer. Minds are growing weaker. Technological advances have made our lives vastly more comfortable but simultaneously less meaningful. Our ability to focus is worse than ever.
In a desperate attempt to feel something we turn towards consciousness-diminishing drugs like alcohol or games because games provide the hierarchy of goals, the clarity of progression, and the meshing of being with doing every human's soul craves.
The problem is if we only play games, we won't advance our real-life character.
This was my issue in high school. I played games like Civ 6, Darkest Dungeon, and The Witcher 3 for hours every day. Focused on leveling up in the game I became pretty good at constructing Nuclear Weapons as Gandhi in Civilization 6. But I stagnated in real life. Through learning the art of focus, I'm leveraging the mental energy I could devote to games in real life to start finding meaning, reinventing myself, and realizing my ideal future. In this article, I will give a book summary interpretation of The Art Of Focus by Dan Koe so you can make the same transformation.
I have read 100s of books over the last four years. And I'm about to make a big statement:
This is the best book I have ever read.
Dan Koe combines spirituality, neuroscience, cognitive science, gamification, business, and more to create a beautiful painting encapsulating the human experience. I have no doubt this book will become a staple read every year. I hope it does for you as well.
The One Skill Gamers Need To Find Meaning, Reinvent Themselves, And Realize Their Ideal Future
Focus is the ultimate meta-skill of life.
Focus separates action from distraction, meaning from meaningless, working toward your goals from not getting sidetracked by the Crispy Cream Donuts at work.
The problem is people have a narrow view of what focus is.
It's not just about narrowing your consciousness on a specific activity for a long period.
Focus is attention with intention.
It's about having awareness in all of life. By this definition, you can be focused--and I encourage you to be--while walking through nature thinking of nothing.
There are four states of focus we can have in life: unconscious narrow focus, unconscious open focus, conscious narrow focus, and conscious open focus.
Unconscious narrow focus is when you funnel your focus on a specific thing without awareness. This often leads to feelings like stress, anxiety, and annoyance. For example, a few days ago, a rogue negative thought about the difficulty of a long-distance relationship with someone I'm growing to really like popped into my head and kept me up for two hours at night.
Unconscious open focus is when you bounce between past, present, and future like a caffeine hyped yoyo without clarity on how to piece together a solution. This can make you feel lost, overwhelmed, and uncertain. For example, thinking about student loans, an upcoming test, and a relationship all fall out simultaneously.
Conscious narrow focus occurs when you funnel your focus on a specific thing with awareness. It often leads to a flow state, and afterward feelings of satisfaction and contentment. For example, the feeling we get in games we have started to get a hold of. The challenge meets our relevant skill, inhibiting negative thoughts.
Conscious open focus is when you broaden your mind with awareness. It often leads to creativity, relaxation, and a sense of peace. For example, when I walked through The Adirondack mountains with my dad and felt my soul connect with the Universe itself.
Through cultivating your focus, you can spend more, if not all, of your time in conscious, narrow, and open focus.
Let's learn what frame of mind this lets you tap into.
The Greatest Frame Of Mind Humans Can Have
The greatest frame of consciousness humans can be in is Aspirance.
Aspirance is a term I made up mixing aspiration and experience to describe the beautiful state of consciousness in which being collapses into doing when you create a self-made hierarchy of goals, gain clarity on the actions and skills needed to achieve those goals, and take action, all the while from the perspective of your highest self.
Pure joy. There is no greater frame or state (except perhaps eating peanut butter but that's probably just a me thing). Aspiration is the combination of the greatest states or frames of consciousness you can be in: self actualization, Transcendence, the flow state, Ikigai, Mindfulness, Autotelic personality, and Eudaimonia.
When in Aspirance, you align your conscious and subconscious to pursue goals. You create a funnel for the natural chaos of the mind. You experience the joy of being and doing together. You cultivate a meta-flow state.
Every gamer has had a taste of Aspirance.
I felt it while playing The Witcher 3. I identified as Geralt--a version of my higher self--and pursued a hierarchy of goals. I started to try and take the best qualities of Geralt into real life, honor, patience, and discipline and an ability to do the hard things others don't want to. No, I could not grow his mustache.
The question is why we all don't exist in that frame of mind right now.
The reason is we don't have the level of consciousness built through focus to consistently have such a frame. Most of us are too attached to the self to reach that level of consciousness.
Let's learn how we can navigate this by exploring what the self is and how it can keep us from Aspirance.
Why You Aren't Living Your Ideal Future Right Now: The Self
As kids we are born into the world with no sense of self.
We have no expectations for the world. In a way, we see things as they truly are, with an The empty mind. Everything is new, and therefore, everything activates dopamine and sparks curiosity. Then, we begin to form kinesthetic identifications. Our mom is breastfeeding us. Our parents playing peek-a-boo. Our hands interact with blocks. Slowly, our window to the world gets filled with expectations, causing us to perceive it differently. We create expectations in the form of labels for hand, mom, dad, and more. The more we age, the more our expectations grow and our sense of self with it.
By young adulthood, many people have developed the rigid foundation of self they will have for the rest of their life.
An analogy we can use to understand this building of the self is that of strings. As we experience the world, we form an invisible web of expectations that build on each other for how the world should be. These strings are not only formed from material perception, but immaterial. Beliefs, biases, ideology, ideas, and language that allow you to make sense of the world around you.
Some strings are flimsy.
These strings are only a centimeter or two thick and easy to cut because we don't have a large attachment.
But some strings are like steel.
They are inches thick and much harder to cut because we are so attached. They're also conductive. Reality questioning this expectation can cause an electric shock and create physical pain (emotional and physical pain target the same parts of the brain).
We have all experienced the pain of having a core part of our self questioned.
A few days ago, while sitting at Morrison Dining Hall in Cornell with my dad, he told me I looked very full of myself while doing my gym workout earlier that day. I felt a sharp stab of pain in my gut. My ideal self is wise and humble. The suggestion I came across as arrogant in my gym workout questioned this ideal.
The conflict between my expectations and reality caused physical pain.
Importantly, the source of pain from the self often comes from a more foundational string than the one questioned.
In the previous example, the questioned belief was my expectation of how I came across in the gym. But on a deeper level, the true expectation that was clashed was my aspiration to become wise and humble. I had a much stronger attachment to this expectation--a much thicker steel string--which actually caused the pain.
We can use this understanding by digging deeper whenever we feel our sense of self threatened.
What string is truly being questioned? Simply identifying the root of a struggle takes away most of its power over you.
Rigid identification with the self is the root of evil.
Close-mindedness is the cause of most relationship struggles, wars, and suffering in the world.
The only solution is to become radically open-minded. To study other perspectives with curiosity and mesh them into your own consciousness. Leonardo Da Vinci is a perfect caricature of this. In many ways, Leonardo acted like a kid. As kids, everything is new, and therefore, everything sparks curiosity. By remaining radically open-minded even as he aged, Leonardo remained curious about the world around him and constantly reformed his web of expectations. He created innovations in anatomy, painting, fluid dynamics, and more, which wouldn't be reinvented for centuries.
We can influence our web of expectations as well.
We can cut old strings. Or build new ones. We must critically assess the information we consume, and create new insights. This is why I'm just a big advocate of skills like linked reading which I teach in my course The Art Of Linked Reading.
To solve the world's problems and enter Aspiration we must solve our problems of self. Otherwise, we will be too close-minded surviving the idea of us to make true change. When we step back and observe the masses, we can see this unfold in a negative manner.
From religion to business to sports to jobs, we become a part of a whole of someone else's creation, unconsciously identify with it, and act to survive that identity.
If You Don't Take Responsibility For Your Own Game, You Will Spend Your Whole Life Playing Someone Else's.
Life is the ultimate meta-game.
Inside life, there are an infinite number of games. Some games, like the parenting game, are longer, whereas others, like the dating game, are smaller. Each game is defined by its goals, rules, feedback, and gameplay loop. Taken together this makes up the game's "gameplay." While the same gameplay can change subtly from person to person, society to society, the core structure of it generally stays relatively the same.
Just like ideas, beliefs, and religions spread through people, so do games.
The game of school is a great example. Without active participation from new students, their parents, administrators, and professors every generation, the game would stop. This keeps an archaic system running despite the fact that people can learn faster and with higher quality online without giving away their kidneys to afford student loans.
Games like these still exist because most people play the games of others rather than play their own.
In the modern era, we survive our psychic body--our selves--by spreading them to others.
People don't acquire beliefs; beliefs acquire people. Ideas that don't spread well never enter the cultural zeitgeist and, therefore, don't affect the majority of humanity. Ideas that do spread well--like that of school, Christianity, or Republican--can make their way into the unconscious goals of people, potentially robbing them of their autonomy.
In the same way, we defend our physical bodies, we defend our mental bodies as well. Question a Republican's--or any person rigidly stuck to a political party--beliefs, and they might lash out as if their physical body were under attack. It's survival. This is how you find yourself defending someone else's game.
The antidote is focus.
With focus, you can navigate the ideas of others with consciousness.
It's one thing to go to school with a conscious decision over why you are going and a mix of self-created goals to back it up. It's another to go unconsciously because everyone else is... That's how you find yourself going through the motions, for your whole life.
Here's the good news: you can create your own games instead of playing someone else's.
Tattoo this question to your head (or maybe don't): how can I make this into a game?
This is how one finds meaning, reinvents themselves, and realizes their ideal self.
They create their own game out of life by defining a self-made hierarchy of goals, gaining clarity over the steps and skills needed to reach those goals, and taking action while aspiring to become their highest self. Nothing makes me feel more alive than creating my ideal future, actively working towards solving the problems in my way--whether in health, wealth, or relationships--and teaching others how to do the same through teaching. Being meshes into doing. Consciousness and subconscious work in tandem. I reach aspirance.
And all through channeling the art of focus.
If you want to start your path to focus, get my gamification resource list to turn your real life into the most fun game imaginable. Create your superhero alter-ego, define your quests and epic wins, cultivate your skills and abilities, and fight your bad guys.
Here's what I would like to share this week.
📸News From The Channel!
📺Latest On De YouTube - 3 Tips To Extend Your Mind Through Connected Notes | Duly Noted: Notetaking isn't just for remembering things in the future. It's a skill for upgrading your thinking. Some of the greatest geniuses of history were avid notetakers. And they came to their insights without linked notetaking apps. By integrating these 3 tips from Duly Noted for connected notetaking, you can create novel insights, upgrade your thinking, and unlock your genius.
🎙️Latest On De Podcast - E36 Nick Shackleton-Jones: Supercharge Your Learning To Make It More Engaging, Fun, And Effective:
Nick is responsible for coining the 'courses to resources' shift, introducing the affective context model of learning, and creating the 5Di© approach to human-centered learning design. He has a 30-year track record of shaping future learning approaches for numerous public and private organizations.
In this podcast you will learn:
- How to gamify your learning to make it more engaging, fun, and effective.
- Principles behind how we learn effectively
- What education and the workplace get wrong about how we learn
✍️Latest On De Blog - What I've Learned About The Art AND Business Of Online Writing After 3 Years Of Writing Everyday: I have become entranced by what makes great writing great. In this article, I will distill my answer to this question from over my three years of writing every day and reading great writers like Nicolas Cole, David Perell, Brandon Sanderson, Matthew Dicks, and Tim Urban. This isn't one of those articles telling you cliche things like less is more, you should write every day, writing is thinking, yada yada yada. You can go read Buzzfead and sacrifice your soul to Satan if that's the kind of lessons you're looking for. No, I'm going to give you the Caviar of writing lessons.
💡My Best Insights:
P.S. Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links.
📖Book - Through the Language Glass: Does language effect the way we see ourselves? The world? In this book, Deutscher makes the fascinating case the languages of a individual, family, and culture profoundly impact the answers to both those questions. Since I'm in the process of learning Spanish for fun right now, this is a fascinating question to me.
📰Blog Post - How Learning Happens: Inspiration is the keystone of learning. Affect is the intellectual glue that makes learning stick. Despite this, most education continues to shove emotionless content at us and motivates us through the fear of the next test. In this blog post, David explores where education went wrong and how we can move toward better learning.