Focus , says author Daniel Goleman, is “utter receptivity to whatever floats into the mind.” And it’s the state of mind that facilitates our most creative thoughts.,

As Nicholas Carr explains in his NYTBR review, focus goes beyond “‘orienting,' in which we deliberately gather information, and ‘selective attention,’ in which we concentrate on solving a particular problem, open awareness frees the brain to make the ‘serendipitous associations’ that lead to fresh insights. Artists and inventors alike seem unusually adept at such productive daydreaming.”

Attention is not, Goleman argues, a single thing, and not all its forms are fruitful: “Its extreme forms tend to be the most limiting. When we’re too attentive, we fall victim to tunnel vision. The mind narrows. When attention is absent, we lose control of our thoughts. We turn into scatterbrains. Open awareness lies in a particularly fertile area between the poles. It gives us entry into what Nathaniel Hawthorne, in one of his notebooks, described as ‘that pleasant mood of mind where gaiety and pensiveness intermingle.’”

Goleman is worried that recent technologies have impoverished this particularly rich form of attention: “What appears to be most at risk is our ability to experience open awareness. Always a rare and elusive form of thinking, it seems to be getting rarer and more elusive. Our modern search-engine culture celebrates information gathering and problem solving — ways of thinking associated with orienting and selective focus — but has little patience for the mind’s reveries.”

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