This book has been one of the best books I’ve ever read. Both because of its content and the clarity of the ideas described.
I would describe the book as a lifestyle manifesto, written by a Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. In it, the author explains how our brain has evolved to work in one of two modes: Default or Focused.
We all have an understanding of what the focused mode is – whenever we are very concentrated at the task at hand. The default mode on the other hand, is a bit harder to grasp. We spend time in the default mode whenever our mind is wandering, and when our minds wander we are usually thinking about one of three things: threats, pleasure, and novelty. And it is precisely this, thinking about threats or pleasures both from the past and the future, that leads to stress.
How then, can we learn to live without stress? Or at least, this type of stress, since in some cases stress can be very helpful (think of walking in the middle of the jungle at night, it’d be beneficial of you to stay stressed and alert as opposed to relaxed).
Since our experience is made up of what we pay attention to, and then, how we interpret our occurrences, the author presents two ways in which we can learn to better enjoy our experience: Refining our Attention and Refining our Interpretation.
Refining our Attention
We can refine our attention by choosing what we focus on. Training the mind to spend more time in the focused mode than in the default mode. One of the ways to do this is, since our mind is instinctively drawn to threats, pleasure, and novelty, learn to lead it to novelty more than threat or pleasure. How can we do this? One example would be, whenever we meet one of our friends or family, pay close attention to what is different about them today, how has their face change since we last saw them, or what clothes are they wearing. This will move our mind from wandering to being focused on something.
Learning to pay close attention to what’s happening around us is not an easy task, in fact, it’s something that can take a lifetime to master. But the good news is there’s so much novelty in the world that we’ll never get bored. Just think of each breath you’re taking and how it is different than the one that came before it, and it will be different from the next one.
To refine our interpretation of experience, Amit suggests seeing our life through the lens of five different principles:
The book has 3 chapters on each of these principles, one to explain what the principle is, another on why we should practice it, and a third one on how we can practice it.
They are all really good and I won’t go into detail here, that’s what the book is for. But I’ll share my biggest lessons: