To be focus-wise is to effectively allocate our attention at a particular moment in a particular context. It's an art that emerges through careful practice, a right understanding of how our brains work, and sensitivity to the professional and personal worlds around us.
As a kid, I could spend hours playing video games. Hours. My mom would call for dinner and I wouldn't even hear her. I was completely enraptured. Then Monday came. I couldn't finish a single page of the fill-in-the-blank homework assignment. What leads one brain to spend hours uncovering the complex mysteries of the world and another to spend hours scrolling their feed or binge-watching an entire series on Netflix?
Our brains are hardwired to pay attention in two very contradictory ways, each serving a distinct purpose in keeping us alive.1 The first works by responding to new stimuli in order to seek pleasure or avoid pain. The second enables us to make active decisions about where we will focus in order to accomplish a goal.
Humanity has survived in large part because chemicals in our brains attract us to new stimuli. When seeing something novel, we receive—you guessed it—a jolt of dopamine. Neuroscientists call this bottom-up attention, and it's the first system of attention in our brains. Bottom-up attention seeks new and novel stimuli with a particular focus on finding pleasure (i.e., procreation) and avoiding pain ...