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Single-pointed Attention: a New Habit Orientation

When we think of habits, we usually think of ticking off a box. “I did this!” Or, “I didn’t do it yet.”

Your orientation to habits will change when instead you think: “How much time did I spend on this habit?”

There are two reasons for this.

First, when you ask this question, you will only pick habits that are worth spending time on. Second, once you approach habits this way, you will actually start to see the most important activities that make up your day.

From the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to bed, your day is full of habits. Most of them are so automatic you don’t think about them. Many of your “habits” exist but haven’t been discovered yet — in other words, these are the things you feel you procrastinate on but wish you’d make more time for.

The Multihabit system is designed to teach you, one step at a time, how to discover these most important habits and bring them into your daily life.

It begins with single-pointed attention.

You may be familiar with this concept from meditation.

It goes like this:

Set a timer then focus on your breath. Focus only on your breath. If you notice your thoughts wandering to anything but your breath, notice that, then begin again.

You can do this for 5 minutes, or 10, or 20. Usually, when practicing meditation, you start small and work your way up.

What you will likely discover as you do this is the nature of your thoughts as you try to focus on one thing. It’s very difficult to keep your attention on one thing. Over time, practicing this exercise, you learn to train your attention. You’ll never get perfect at it, but instead will learn how to continually reinvest your attention on one thing when otherwise you’d just tend to wander off to something else.

Now, this is excellent for attention. Many people who practice this notice benefits in their everyday lives.

But we can get more practical, and this is where the exercise will apply to our Multihabit system.

Instead of your breath, pick your most important habit that requires attention. It might be reading a book, writing a book, practicing an instrument, doing your workout, managing your business, or even, spending undivided time with a friend.

All that matters is this activity feels like a habit you want to spend time on with single-pointed attention.

Now, instead of focusing on your breath, set a timer and focus on that habit.

Because you want to be immersed in this habit, don’t set a count-down timer. Set a count-up one instead. This lets you simply focus on being present in the habit and maintaining your attention as long as possible.

When you feel naturally done, or need a break, pause the timer. Take note of how much time you’ve spent.

Our Multihabit system will let you record this time every day. Over weeks, then months, you can see how your daily time on this habit adds up.

For now, if you are taking my Highbrow course, you can use the spreadsheet I provided at the end of the first lesson. Or, if you subscribe to these articles, hit “reply” and ask me for a link and I’ll be happy to provide you with one so you can get started tracking your time.

Single-pointed attention is the foundation of our habit system, and in the coming articles, we will see how everything builds from this.

Stay tuned for more on this system, as next we ask how best to define a habit so we can always apply this single-pointed attention principle to everything we spend our time on.