narrow attention vs wide attention

I continued reading Marion Milner’s A Life of One’s Own today. She points out two ways of paying attention:

Narrow Attention: This is the kind of attention we usually give to everyday tasks and activities. It’s focused, goal-oriented, and often driven by our immediate desires and interests. Narrow attention is like a spotlight, illuminating only a small part of our experience while filtering out the rest. It’s useful for getting things done, but it can also lead to boredom, tunnel vision, and a feeling of disconnection from the world around us.

Wide Attention: This is a more open, receptive, and expansive way of paying attention. It involves relaxing our focus and allowing our awareness to spread out, taking in the whole scene without judgement or preconceived notions. Wide attention is like a floodlight, illuminating a broader range of experiences and possibilities. It’s associated with curiosity, creativity, and a sense of wonder.

Milner believed that both narrow and wide attention are important, but that most of us tend to rely too heavily on narrow attention. She suggested that cultivating wide attention can enrich our lives by opening us up to new experiences, insights, and perspectives.

For example:

Narrow attention: While walking in nature, you might focus on getting exercise or reaching a destination, barely noticing the sights and sounds around you.

Wide attention: While walking in nature, you might allow yourself to be fully immersed in the experience, noticing the details of the landscape, the feel of the sun on your skin, and the sounds of the birds singing.

This feels like a good tool to use for personal growth, akin to mindfulness and paying attention to the present moment…

Leave a Reply