In this presentation, the very talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt shares his thoughts and wisdom about the things we focus our attention on. For him, after years of hearing “action” as an actor on a film set, he found that the phrase helped him to establish a complete and uninterrupted sense of focus. He describes how he loves this feeling of focus and the creativity he thinks it enables.
Getting attention vs. paying attention
Joseph describes how he used his acting skills as a child to get attention. He would brag to the other kids about his experiences acting on the show “Family Ties.” Eventually the admiration he received from peers turned into negative attention and accusations of being a show-off.
Much later in life, he also recalls when Twitter launched. He felt powerful in his ability to use words. The experience of feeling adored for his skills was intoxicating. Through the tool, his focus changed to getting attention again. The platform transformed his point of view from working on his craft and art to considering what he could say and do to promote his works and get interaction from users.
Joseph notes how all modern social networks sell our attention to marketers — that the practice is at the heart and soul of the platforms. The tools have managed to leverage the attention we get from sharing things into revenue through ads. Hence, the entire system has worked to get people hooked on getting attention. And, in turn, generating more revenue.
We begin to chase having a growing number of followers, and more attention. The chase and achievement of followers never really yields a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. As users, everyone feels terrible about themselves as they compare their follower and engagement numbers to those of others. There is never enough attention.
How to feel fulfilled
Joseph suggests that creativity driven by power of attention will never feel fulfilling. He found that a lot of research had been done about focus. And, in particular, what happens when we focus on just one thing and get into a state of “flow.”
Joseph has tried to stop seeing other creatives as competitors. Instead, he looks for ways and opportunities to collaborate. This simple shift affects his mindset and ability to focus. The experience becomes about the interaction and not about a competition for gaining more attention.
He sees the Internet as the ultimate tool for connecting with others for collaboration. By finding connections and projects to work on, we can get into a healthier and more satisfying state of “flow.” We are able to be more present and pay better attention to things. For him, this is the secret to tapping creativity and getting out of the habit of chasing attnetion.