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Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,850 ratings  ·  262 reviews
Winifred Gallagher revolutionizes our understanding of attention and the creation of the interested life

In Rapt, acclaimed behavioral science writer Winifred Gallagher makes the radical argument that the quality of your life largely depends on what you choose to pay attention to and how you choose to do it. Gallagher grapples with provocative questions—Can we train our fo
Hardcover, 244 pages
Published April 16th 2009 by Penguin Press (first published April 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.60  · 
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Oct 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
I'm disappointed that this book about attention was not, itself, more sharply focused. Instead of building towards a thesis or providing an organized survey of her theme, author Winifred Gallagher begins and ends "Rapt" with scattered essays that don't seem to be much about focus and attention at all.

The meat of the book is sandwiched in the middle, where the author guides the reader through the leading research on focus and attention. We learn that attention can be diffuse or focused, and ther
Scott Key
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book has changed the way I work. Author Winifred Gallagher has marshaled quite a bit of research into fourteen chapters and has made it approachable with a good takeaway at the end of each chapter that can be integrated into several areas of life where attention is important. If you have read Malcolm Gladwell and John Medina, much of what you read here will not be new.

Gallagher learned about the power of attention for ill or for good when she was diagnosed with cancer and decided not to le
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
"All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being."
Gallagher explains that our life consists of what we focus on, and by noticing where we are placing our attentions, we can enhance or even change our experience of life. I especially enjoyed her illustration
Oct 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Rapt caught my attention after reading an excerpt in the Utne Reader. The thesis was pretty straightforward – what you focus on determines your experience of life. I was intrigued because I had always struggled with paying quality attention to my children, ostensibly the focus of my work as a stay-at-home mother. I wanted to experience my life with them better, and I wanted something more than a simplistic parenting book that suggested setting aside 20 minutes of play without distraction each da ...more
Apr 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Aaron by:
Like most people who read Rapt, I came to the book prehooked. I've never been much of an ace at focus – I was a poor student all the way through college, when I not so much snapped suddenly to attention as graduated to a curriculum based more on a few large tests than endless worksheets to be turned in on the hour – and I was suspected of ADHD more than once as a child and teen. Like many, I never really got a conclusive answer. I certainly didn't feel like I had an attention problem, just that ...more
Oct 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Winifred Gallagher’s Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life readily merits its readers’ sustained attention. Gallagher persuasively shows how whatever we focus on is—quite literally—how we spend our lives. Our attention, in other words, is like currency. So the ways we choose to spend it determine the caliber and character of our experience.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced us to Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience in 1991. New developments in neuroscience have since revealed even more abo
May 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Rapt provides a survey of a wide breadth of research on attention, yet manages to obfuscate more than it reveals. In one chapter, attention and conscious experience are synonymous; in another, implicit learning is the apogee of well-directed attention. The author broaches claims with no substantive evidence, such as the idea that perpetual interactions in a multimedia context breed superficial brains. Such claims are bereft of the surveyed research because there is no research to back them up! G ...more
Jun 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book, and thank you to my sister Amy for recommending it. It made me think about how our lives are defined by what we pay attention to. Also, I appreciated the chapter on ADHD, since I see that a lot at work. A lot of the science in this book is also mentioned in Malcom Gladwell's Blink and Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide, but each of the books offers a different perspective.

I think decision making and focusing our attention are the challenges of our age. We have so much to cho
Pooja Kashyap
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher opens up with William James’s famous quote, “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind”. This is one of the most powerful lines that I have come across. It’s so simple yet so profound to execute.

It is not really a self-help book as many might expect. The book talks about what is attention and how it can be strengthened by two main practices, mindfulness and meditation.

What is an attention?
Bea Elwood
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reshelved
I hate not finishing a book but honestly if a book about attention and focus is unable to hold mine while reading it's not meant to be. ...more
Strongly influenced by the classic Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, this book, published two decades later, broadens the scope from skilled activities to attention in general. It was motivated by Gallagher's experience of becoming more mindful during a serious illness. Numerous studies and examples back up her arguments that attention contributes to happiness. It is a good companion to Flow.

I have always admired her introductory comment that “you might encounter an intuition lurking i
Sep 30, 2011 rated it liked it
“Whenever you squander attention on something that doesn’t put your brain through its paces and stimulate change, your mind stagnates a little and life feels dull.” I couldn’t agree more, book! How often do we spend an afternoon mindlessly watching reruns and feel this way?

I heard about this book on the radio a while back. I’m guessing it was NPR, but I could be wrong. It’s been on my TBR list for a while, and after seeing it on the shelf at the library the other day, I thought I’d finally pick
Mar 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
*Paying attention to your attention*

Completely rapt while reading this book at the gym, I was startled when the gym staff member alerted me that the gym was about to close. Apparently, I missed the announcement. Now, if that's not a convincing testimony for the captivating factor of this book, I'm not sure what is.

The basic premise of _Rapt_ is: "Your life--who you are, what you think, feel and do, what you love--is the sum of what you focus on." It not what happens to happens to you that matter
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good collection of essays that, at 11 years old, may be slightly outdated where some of the scientific findings are concerned. (I'm curious to see new findings on attention and ADHD, for instance.) Even so, the advice is timeless... And timely, as digital distractions like social media and instant messaging continue to fragment our attention. ...more
Oct 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Accessible manifesto on living with intention and optimism. Draws on history, literature, science, tech, modern culture. Ironically, multiplicity of sources creates a disjointed effect. But the main message is clear and inspiring.
Emma Sea
What Daniel said.

I wanted specific strategies and suggestions for increasing the amount of time I spend in deep work (getting off Goodreads would probably be a good start). Instead I got a book of fluff and padding.

1.5 stars.
Todd Martin
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was ok
You might think that someone who claims to be an expert on focused attention would be capable of writing an engrossing book, but you’d be wrong. The best adjective I can think of to describe Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher is … eminently forgettable.

The problems are twofold:
1. It’s rather difficult to study internal states of mind. No machine exists that provide concrete measurements of our mental states; thus psychologists have to resort to drawing inferences from sel
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
It's kind of ironic that I enjoyed this book tremendously, thought it was highly interesting, but yet I kept putting it down and it took me so many months to finally finish this book. I guess I was interested while I was reading it, but was slow to pick it back up each time I put it down. Too bad it wasn't available as an audiobook at my library.

I liked how even though the book was all about attention and focus, it still covered a lot of ground and was successful at bringing everything back to t
Jan 27, 2021 marked it as abandoned
DNF. I was already feeling a little worried by a faintly smug or dismissive tone I felt Gallagher adopted towards those experiencing depression, mental illness, etc, and worried the book was veering more towards cheery self-help than science. Then I came across this bit: "...some eclectic research suggests that rather than being helpful, focusing top-down attention on a psychic wound can make you feel worse. Debriefing-style counseling after a trauma often aggravates the victim's stress-related ...more
Tara Brabazon
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A surprisingly good book. A bit too Malcolm Gladwell for my liking. A bit too much pseudo-neuroscience. But parking those two issues, this is a fine book. There are some emotional and interesting points made in this book.

I read it to - perhaps - offer a vlog to my PhD students on focus and motivation. It does offer some powerful ideas for that goal. But it is an inspirational book about how to - with consciousness - live a life rather than going through the motions of life. All of us - too often
John Stepper
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author had my attention (pun, unfortunately, intended) from the very beginning. I believe what she believes, in that our ability to control our attention is the “sine qua non” of a good life.

The book then goes on to provide comprehensive arguments on why and how this is so, which at times felt almost overwhelming. Yes, it’s important! The question to cultivate the level of self-control needed to experience the benefits? While the book didn’t give me as many answers as I might like,
Laura Luzzi
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A lot of insight on how we experience life on what we focus on. This book calmed me somehow. I guess because it shows that you can get out of that over-whelmed state and use your mind to have a much more productive and satisfied day.
Harshit Shukla
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Makes for compelling arguments about having a focussed life. Covers lot of ground apart from focussing on a target, but is holistic in its perspective. Might not be much research oriented, cases studies are not exhaustive.
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Great book that reminds us what we focus on becomes our reality.
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
“If you could stay focused on the right things, your life would stop feeling like a reaction to stuff that happens to you and become something you create: not a series of accidents but a work of art ... Paying rapt attention whether to a trout stream or a novel , a do it yourself project or a prayer, increases your capacity for concentration, expands your inner boundaries and lifts your spirits, but more important simply makes you feel that life is worth living.”

The above quotes encompass the th
Jul 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
overall this book was worth reading. many details review what is already known; some details are on recent research results on the brain and its ways and means of attention; many anecdotal elements were included and added to the chapters theses; a few thoughts were new and which i would not have otherwise known. overall a good book if you've got the spare time; otherwise, common sense can inform us almost as much as this book does.

but one thing it does do is to remind us how much our tech life
May 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A good reminder to pay attention to the things that make you happy. I particularly liked the descriptions of bottom-up and top-down attention. It has quite a bit of relatively new research in it, although having recently read the brain that changes itself and blink, there wasn't a great deal new for me. However I found it valuable to make me aware of my habitual mode of focussing and practical ways to control my attention. I might even try meditating. I'm not sure I agree that the state of rapt ...more
Nate Q
Mar 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: socio-psych
For a book all about attention, I was hoping this one would at least keep mine. The content was far too straight-forward, if not obvious – and unfortunately had very few concrete takeaways for me. The only way this assisted my attention was that I could listen to the audiobook, look at updates on Flipboard, and do the dishes. Hooray for hyperthreading… If you want more than this book offers, Yahoo the benefits of savoring, meditation, focus, looking at the same situation in a different light, de ...more
Oct 24, 2009 rated it liked it
This book helps make the case for wholly attending to the present moment and refocusing our flighty minds to the matters that truly enrich, improve, and provide meaning to our existence. It was punishingly hard to get into - not what you'd call a "page-turner," and there were three or four chapters that could probably just have been cut. I'm glad I slogged through; I found much of the material insightful and relevant. This was pretty inspiring to step up efforts to lead a mindful and attentive l ...more
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I will read this book at least one more time because it is rich with thoughtful evidence for why mindful attention makes a difference in every situation we apply it to. The author frames her dialogue with research based evidence that is accessible and practical for any average reader. The content caused me to reflect on the ways I learn, work, and just "be." ...more
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