Managing your attention - the quickest strategy to take back control in your life


In 2007 a powerful social experiment took place.

A famous Grammy-winning violinist was asked to pose as an everyday busker in an American subway station.

His task was to play a 45-minute performance.

The results were sad but probably not surprising.

  • Only 7 people stopped what they were doing to listen for at least a minute
  • Only 27 people threw money into his violin case – most of them tossing the money in as they walked by
  • Over 1000 people hurried past entirely oblivious to the award-winning performance taking place right in front of them

The vast majority of people completely missed one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. 

This experiment struck me.   

Because I probably wouldn’t have been one of those 7 people.

Would you?

This experiment gives us an insight into how much we’re missing in our lives because we’re rushing from place to place. 

Or we’re trying to knock out all the tasks on our daily to-do lists as fast as humanly possible.

How much are we missing out on the magical moments in our lives?

We know that we’re living in a time of unprecedented demands for our attention.

Large tech companies are literally competing for our attention.

Netflix famously once said that their biggest competitor is sleep!

It’s not that our attention has been lost but instead, it’s being stolen.

If you’ve not read Stolen Focus; Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How To Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari I’d recommend it.

In his book, Johann argues that if we’re to give attention to the things that matter most to us it requires us to defend our ‘attentional freedom.’

For his book, Johann interviewed James Williams, an ex-google strategist, now philosopher and acclaimed author. (His book is called “Stand out of our light: Freedom and resistance in the attention economy” 

Williams conceptualises our attention into three layers of focus:

1 – Spotlight – this is your focus on immediate actions.  

Such as reading this blog.  

Making yourself a cup of coffee.  

Sending an email.

Making a phone call.

It’s called the spotlight because it narrows your focus down. If your spotlight gets distracted or disrupted you are prevented from completing short-term actions like this. 

And let’s be frank our modern lives are full of distractions from our spotlight attention!

According to research from the University of California, it takes 23 minutes or more to refocus after an interruption. So even a 2-minute distraction can throw your whole day off course! 

2 – Starlight – this is your focus on longer-term goals and activities.

You want to be a good parent.

You want a promotion at work.

You want to start your own business.

You want to run a marathon (this one definitely isn’t for me but I’m in awe of anyone who does!)

It’s called starlight because whenever your feel lost you look up at the stars and it reminds you of the direction you’re travelling in.

If you lose sight of your starlight (your longer-term goals) then it’s difficult to orient yourself as you forget where you’re headed.

3 – Daylight – this is your focus on the bigger picture.  

It’s the light of your values.

It’s the essence of what you want your life to be about

It’s the existential question of what is the purpose and meaning of your life.

Williams warns that undermining our daylight may be the most serious and unnoticed danger of the attention economy. 

It’s becoming more of a risk for us to spend our lives on meaningless activities or being hijacked by other people’s agendas.

Williams states in his book: 

It’s my firm conviction, now more than ever, that the degree to which we are able and willing to struggle for ownership of our attention is the degree to which we are free.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now you’ll know that one of my favourite quotes is by Owain Thomas:

And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.

Coaching is a powerful way to give yourself attention freedom – taking back control of where you’re putting your attention and focusing on what matters most—both in the long and short term.

So if you want help in putting your hand back on your heart to realign with what’s most important then get in touch for a free discovery call.

Here’s to us taking back control of our attention in a world that wants to steal it from us.


We’re genuine, like-minded women, just like you!

We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.



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