Top tip for keeping your girlfriend happy: don’t tell her you’re reading a book about seduction. Or if you must, tell her in person so you can counter the accusatory eyebrow raise with a boyish grin and a cliched vow of affection. It also helps if you have a slightly more plausible excuse than “uh, it’s interesting?”
In The Art Of Seduction, Robert Greene undertakes a survey of some of histories greatest seducers. Whether they were a coquette, alternating between intimate and distant, a Rake, or a Charmer, they all shared one fundamental quality. The ability to give focused and individualised attention to the object of their seduction. To achieve this, they had to be able to perceive their targets insecurities and longings and adapt their own appearance and conduct to fulfill them.
To be a successful seducer requires paying attention to two things. Firstly, how you appear to others. Secondly, discovering what they need and expect from you. This double-sided ability is fundamental in another arena. It is a key component of a theory of conflict called the OODA loop. The four steps (observe, orient, decide, act) constitute a continual matching between actual reality, and the reality as it is perceived. The more rapidly you can move through the cycle, and the more accurate your observations are, the better you will be able to make decisions and take action. The interplay in the OODA model is between reality and appearances, an attention to the state of your surroundings and how you yourself consider them. So we can see that there are two forms of attention:
1) Outwardly directed. Seeing your environment and recognising patterns in the information you receive.
2) Inwardly directed. Understanding how you interpret information, make judgments and your capabilities to handle situations.
The latter, inwardly directed attention has it’s roots in the beginning of civilisation. Particularly in philosophy. The philosophy I refer to is not the abstract, “does that table really exist” kind of philosophy. It is philosophy in it’s purest form, merely as a guide to instruct you how to live. The art of living is built upon the foundation of self-knowledge. By paying attention to yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses, your tendencies, your preferences, your thoughts and your desires, you lay the groundwork for future improvement.
This acquired self-knowledge has other purposes. As well as the traditional applications of molding your character and shaping you as a human being, inwardly directed attention has repercussions for your professional life. In Mastery, Robert Greene lays down a formula for achieving the pinnacle of your art or craft. Element one is time. The second is self-assurance. The third is intense focus. The latter two, assurance and focus are direct consequences of your powers of attention. Self-assurance comes from a firm grasping of your character and your abilities. Intense focus is born from honing your capacity to pay attention. But to what?
In Creativity, Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi points out that someone aspiring to excellence must consider three things. Firstly, does he know his discipline? Does he understand the accepted rules, knowledge and accepted method of doing things? Secondly, does he know his field and the people that compose it? The accepted authorities, the influencers and individuals who compose the elite and powerful. Thirdly, does he know himself? Does he know the extent and limitations of his ideas, his practices, his abilities? Does he recognise where he differs and where he is the same as others in his field? Does he comprehend the rules of the game and does he align with them, or seek to overthrow them? The above questions are answerable only if he has an awareness of self and is attentive to his surroundings.
Outwardly directed attention dictates how we operate and interact socially. We all recognise and conform to social practices in some form. If we did not, we would be outcasts shunned from society. Lord Chesterfield, who in the 19th century sought to educate his son on how to rise in the world, considered noticing and (outwardly) aligning with social trends a fundamental aspect of his son’s education. In fact, he continually stressed the need for his son to have a dual education; firstly in books, knowledge and ideas, and secondly of human nature. It was his belief that merit alone is not enough. He expected his son to be able to please and to charm and to make others feel comfortable. This expectation could not be fulfilled if he refused to pay attention to an individual’s character, insecurities, desires and preferences.
Regardless of whether you consider training your powers of attention for social effectiveness moral or not, there is one area in which we all must hone them. I am referring to our friends, family and loved ones. Attention given to those we spend time with is one of the most important aspects of our life. Unfortunately, it seems to be eroding. My evidence? Next time you go to a restaurant or coffee shop, watch how many people will incessantly check their phone, to the detriment of their company.
The role of attention and our ability to apply it is growing in importance. Living amongst constant opportunities for distraction and overwhelming amounts of information, our powers of attention are fading. We must practice and train it in both forms. Inwardly, we must learn to assess our character, what we think we are good at and what we are not, what causes us anxiety and what evokes stress and reactions. Outwardly, we should learn to notice the mood of our company, what others around us require, where the problems and opportunities in our work are, what around us is holding us back. As Lord Chesterfield observes:
”Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention…
…The most material knowledge of all, I mean the knowledge of the world, is never to be acquired without great attention; and I know many old people, who, though they have lived long in the world, are but children still as to the knowledge of it, from their levity and inattention.”
Whatever it is you happen to be doing, learn to give it your complete and utter attention. Ensure presence takes priority over productivity.