Hello and welcome to the first lesson!
Let’s not waste time and jump right in, shall we? Here are your first story, principle and experiment.
The Staring Illusion
Have you ever wanted to understand a magician’s trick, before he reveals it?
Are you good at guessing plot twists in movies?
Would you like to just sit down on Sunday afternoon and read an entire book in one go?
What all of these have in common is that they require you to be really good at one thing: paying attention.
Let’s start with something fun that’ll help you prove a very important point to yourself – and crank up your attention span.
In fact, it’s exactly one of those magic tricks we’d all love to be able to decode on our own. It’s scientific name is the motion aftereffect, but I just call it the staring illusion.
Here’s how it works: You stare at a continuously moving visual for a few seconds, keeping your eyes fixed on one point and trying not to blink. Once you turn away and start looking around, all stationary objects in your environment seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Let’s try it!
Click on the video below to start playing it.
Pause, set the cursor to 0:00 and set it to full screen (click the icon in the bottom right corner of the Youtube player, you might have to open it on Youtube for this).
Press play and stare at the center of the screen until the video is over. Try not to blink.
When the video has ended, turn away from the screen and look around. Start blinking again. Wait for a few seconds until the motion aftereffect fades away.
WARNING: Do not watch this if you suffer from photosensitive epilepsy or are sensitive to flashing lights. If you do, just skip to the next part.
Here’s the video:
Follow the instructions above and then return to this email. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. I’m not going anywhere until you come back.
Look, I’ll even draw a line here 🙂
How was it? Crazy trip, huh?
I bet you have two questions now:
How does this work?
Why the hell did I just make you do this?
The answer to the first one is a bit complicated, but I’ll try without launching into a full college lecture:
Your neurons adapt to any constant stimulus. This is the reason your socks don’t scratch you and you don’t even feel the fabric on your skin after a while. All neurons do this, so when you stare at a waterfall for a minute, your eyes eventually adapt to the constant downward movement and reduce their activity – they get tired.
Normally, your neurons have a certain baseline activity – a balance, so to speak. For example, if you turn your head and see a non-moving object, like a rock, your visual neurons perceive it as moving equally in all directions. To them it moves up as much as down, left as much as right – and therefore isn’t moving at all.
But when your eyes adapt and get tired from watching a waterfall (or the illusion in the video above), they’ll want to catch up on rest and re-balance by producing an image of motion in the opposite direction. This occurs even after you’ve stopped staring at the moving object and are already looking at something that’s not moving – hence the illusion.
So much for the neuroscience excursion. The answer to the second question brings me to today’s principle.
The Goldfish Principle
The reason I wanted you to stare at this illusion and give it your undivided attention for 30 seconds straight is that I wanted you to beat the goldfish.
Umm…what now? Let me explain.
When I was in 10th grade, our art class teacher would always let us listen to music during class. He said: “Do whatever you want! As long as you’re painting, drawing or doodling, I don’t care.” A friend and me happily jumped at this opportunity and would listen to a CD of a live show of one of our favorite comedians, Kaya Yanar, over and over again.
About one third into the show, Kaya starts talking about goldfish.
It took me forever, but I finally found out why fish are so stupid. They only have short-term memory. And their attention span is just 9 seconds. That means every 9 seconds, a fish gets an entirely new life. Think about it. It’s the only reason a goldfish can even survive in a tiny fishbowl without killing itself.
Here’s what happens when you put it into the bowl: “Hey! This ain’t so bad. Just a little narrow. And tight. Oh my god! I can’t swim out into the distance! Get me out of here! HEEEEEEEEELP!”
“Hey! This ain’t so bad. Just a little…”
The reason I still remember this story after over 10 years (other than having listened to it 1,000 times) is that the goldfish fact is true.
A goldfish can only pay attention for 9 seconds. You just focused on something for 30 seconds straight, which means…
You beat the goldfish! CONGRATS!!
Why is that such a big deal?
Because it also means you beat the average human being. You read right. Here’s what’s way more shocking than the goldfish’s 9-second attention span:
A 2015 study conducted by Microsoft found that the average human attention span declined from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2013.
You have just done something that takes four times the average human attention span.
You are not average. You are the master of your attention. And you can sure pay attention to what you’re reading (you’ve been proving it for about 4 minutes now).
You must believe in this. Controlling your attention is the very first step to reading more. It’s also how you get the most out of today’s principle.
In honor of our golden-scaled friend, we’ll call it:
The Goldfish Principle
Here’s what it says: Whatever you give your attention to, you grow more of.
It’s simple, but very powerful once you realize it permeates your entire life.
Watch an episode of Game of Thrones and you’ll want to watch another one. Prank a co-worker and she’ll be sure to prank you back when you’re not looking. Read a chapter in a book and you’re a lot more likely to pick it up again the next day.
Unlike the goldfish, who’ll have a tough time remembering what corner of the bowl it found that extra bit of algae, you can use directing your attention to your advantage – over and over again.
I originally learned this from an interview with fashion Youtuber Mimi Ikonn, who explained it when answering how she dealt with haters on Youtube:
I read and respond to positive [comments], because I believe whatever you give your attention is what you will grow more. If you give your attention to negative you’ll grow more of negative in your life and if you give attention to positive, you’ll naturally have more positive. ~ Mimi Ikonn
So far you’ve shown yourself that you’re NOT average, that you can beat a goldfish (and most other people) and that you can direct your attention like a laser to grow more of whatever it’s aimed at.
Which brings me to…
The Book Buddy Experiment
If giving your attention to things turns them into a bigger part of your life, and you’re trying to read more and make room for books in your day, then it naturally follows that you should give as much attention to books as you can.
That’s why today, I’d like you to pick a book as your buddy and introduce it to your environment in a way that draws your attention to it.
For example, if you spend most of your day in your home office, take a book you’d like to read and leave it on your desk. If you’re a bike messenger, keep it in your messenger bag all day. Work at a restaurant? Keep it in the kitchen. Copy a page, fold it and put it in your breast pocket.
Wherever you spend most of your day, make sure there’s a book right there with you, in order to expose your attention to it on a constant basis.
Note: If you read primarily on a Kindle or ebook reader, the same principle applies, keep it near you at all times.
Notice I’m not talking about reading yet. I don’t care if you open it at all. This is about making room in your life for something that’s important to you, nothing more.
A few tips:
If you haven’t got a book in mind or the course made you think about one you’ve been meaning to read, maybe pick up one from this list of motivational books. I found these to be particularly inspiring, which made me want to read even more.
Another option is to just read one of the 22 free books that come with this course. Simply tell a friend about the course and I’ll send you a ZIP file with all of them.
If you don’t want to do either of those things, the simplest route to go is to just re-read a book you love. Re-living the fond memories from when you first read a book that’s dear to you is a great way to spark your love for reading again.
Closing The Chapter
What have you learned so far?
By successfully making it through the staring illusion you’ve shown yourself that unlike most people, you don’t have an attention span that’s worse than the one of a goldfish.
You now know The Goldfish Principle, which says that whatever you pay attention to, you grow more of.
You’ve started paying attention to paying attention, which is kinda meta, but means you can now give your full focus to the emails of this course, read them without interrupting in the process and thus dedicate time to reading more – awesome! 🙂
By picking a book and putting it in a place where you can keep it very close to you for most of the day, you’ve taken the first step towards giving reading the place in your life it deserves.
In the next lesson, you’ll learn why no course (not even this one) can provide one-size-fits-all advice. You’ll also see how you can use something called The Rainbow Principle to account for the fact that no one compares to you and adapt any learning experience to your current situation.
Lesson 2 will hit your inbox tomorrow.
Let me know if there’s anything else you wanted to learn about attention by replying to this email! I want this course to never stop evolving so that it’s always the most powerful it can be.
Rooting for your reading,