In a Trance

Reading fiction hones our deep focus skills like nothing else because it puts is into a trance-like state in which we go deep inside our minds. As we read, we create images and scenes to accompany the words on the page. The process is intensely pleasurable, and this is one more reason to cultivate deep focus. It feels good. It’s the cheapest, deepest pleasure that’s always there.

The Guide for the Deep Work Exercise

Here’s the guide for interpreting the feelings you might have experienced during the deep work exercise.

1. Guilt and anxiety that you weren’t doing anything. This is the easiest thing to beat. Simply remember that “I have to be doing something useful all the time or I’m a bad person” is the most surefire way to get nothing done. If you see yourself as a machine or an instrument to do stuff, you don’t let the actual you, the person who is bigger than any activity you might engage in fully to exist.

2. Discomfort, sadness, fear, anger, depression. This means that your unbearable affects aren’t boundaried up and are leaking all over your life. You are probably the kind of person who often lacks energy to do even the most important stuff. You probably believe that your biggest problems are “procrastination” and “laziness.” The reality, however, is that procrastination is a myth. You are not lazy. Laziness doesn’t exist. You are simply tired from having to mop up the leaking unbearable affects all day. This is the hardest work there is, so congratulate yourself for being the hardest working person around.

Everybody has unbearable affects. You are not a bad person for having them. Right now they are trampling all over your life like a scared herd of rhinos instead of being corralled neatly in a place from which they can’t escape. Deep affects will have to be gathered and locked up. Forget about deep work. This is no way to live your life when these bastards are crapping everywhere freely. I recommend spending 15 minutes every day doing nothing and observing what thoughts, words, or images are surfacing and causing pain. Write them down, identify the source, and look for what could be a boundary that would keep them at bay. I can write more about unbearable affects if people are interested.

3. Boredom, need for stimulation, an itch to grab a device, a book, a source of information or entertainment. This is the effect of living in a culture where everything aims at robbing us of our capacity to focus deeply. Love is attention. Once your capacity to concentrate your attention on yourself and others is broken, you can no longer truly love yourself or them. Regaining the capacity to be very attentive to your own thoughts is very doable. It takes some practice but it’s like absolutely any skill. The more you practice, the better you get.

4. Profound enjoyment. This is how it should be. Psychological health is finding your own life endlessly fascinating. From brushing teeth to making the bed, we are supposed to be extremely interested in every aspect of our lives. If being alone with your thoughts isn’t fun, something isn’t working right.

If there are emotions that surfaced during the exercise that I didn’t name, mention them in the comments and we’ll talk about them.