Spotlight, starlight, daylight – 3 layers of attention

Some things about social media are brilliant, for example the fact that Tim, a friend from Singapore, recommended a book on Facebook: “Stolen Focus: Why you can’t pay attention.” by Johann Hani. Other consequences of social media are less than brilliant. Their designers clearly have different goals for our lives than we do: money is made when we read, scroll, interact, provide our likes and dislikes, our data to be sold to advertisers and consume advertisement and ultimately products we don’t need and not when we connect, follow our dreams, have fun, experiment and learn things.

So before I go on a rant (and believe me, I could), let me talk about an interesting distinction that I found in the book. Johann Hani 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” and is available for free download).

Our attention, he says, can be conceptualized as having 3 layers:

The spotlight, a metaphor for our immediate attention.

I, for example, currently have my spotlight on typing, on checking whether I got it right in my kindle next to me and feel a tug from the notification on my slack channel, wanting to veer my spotlight off what I am currently doing.

The starlight, an image for our longer term goals.

One of my longer term goals, for example, is helping more people understand how a social constructionist way of coaching is kinder, easier and more philosophically correct than traditional individualist and essentialist notions. It could also be wanting to be a good parent, a good leader, a good friend — or whatever it is that will help you feel your life is worth living.

The daylight stands for our ability to figure out what it is that we want.

In order to be able to figure out what we want, we need to reflect, to see things clearly (hence the term “daylight”). We don’t automatically know what it is — we need to try things out, have other people tell us we are good at something, rejoice in some things and not others and notice these feelings, yup, pay attention to them.

All of these layers are in danger when we are constantly distracted, never bored or in “default mode”, simply letting our minds wander and processing what we are experiencing. Under constant distraction we become less productive, less proud of our achievements, less content, experience our lives as less meaningful and are less able to connect with our environment: probably not what we really aspire to in our lives.

What I like about Hani’s book and James William’s approach is that they do not blame the individual for being distracted: it is a societal problem, not a problem of our weak resistance to distraction. The technology is designed to exploit our human needs for connection, for reward, for community, so it’s not any individual’s fault.

Luckily, coaching has the power to strengthen all three of the the lights:

The daylight: In Solution Focused coaching, we talk about our client’s daylight, how they know what they want, how they will notice that they got there, what other people will notice, and so on. In a sense, Solution Focused coaching is all about creating more of this daylight in a non-individualistic way. Solution Focused conversations always include shedding light on our environment. Coaching gives clients the time to reflect, to meander, to enquire and to be curious.

The starlight: Solution Focused conversations focus on what is wanted and not what is not wanted — the starlight and the description of the star is built-in. And again, it is about the star not only guiding our client but also taking into account how the environment will respond.

The spotlight: Once the star is clear, we start looking for where the spotlight might go, what our clients might pay attention to, so they can be guided by their star, step for step. In Solution Focused coaching we often invite clients to describe what they will be noticing, where there attention will go when they are guided by their star.

Of course, coaching is NOT a remedy for the mess we are in. I believe we can all do our little bits to resist the pull of constant distraction, but I fear that this is not going to solve the problem. What will? I don’t know, but I am hopeful. Humanity has overcome other difficulties, as Hani also states: women can vote, people can marry who they want, life expectancy is higher, the world can even survive a pandemic. So I am confident we can figure this one out (without knowing how).

If you want to practice Solution Focused conversations, get some information on courses, see a demo or do whatever emerges for the lovely people that tend to hang around our weekly free meetups and exchange sessions, book one here: