The Power of Paying Attention

April 30, 2009

by Laura Rowley
Thursday, April 30, 2009, 12:00AM

If you want to be happy, pay attention.

That’s the conclusion of the new book ‘Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life’ by behavioral science writer Winifred Gallagher. Interviewing neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, and others, Gallagher argues that your happiness depends in large part on where and how you choose to place your focus.

Paying attention sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s similar to the platitude “Live within your means” — it makes a gigantic difference in your well-being, yet many people can’t figure out how to do it. Gallagher breaks down the science of attention, explaining what happens in the brain when we focus on something; why certain things grab our attention and can sabotage our mood, creativity, and productivity; and how to take control of the tool of attention to create a more fulfilling life. At its heart, the book optimistically affirms that no one is a victim of his circumstances — no matter how difficult those circumstances might be.

Gallagher knows that territory intimately. The book was inspired by her battle with cancer a few years ago. “When I got the diagnosis, I interviewed doctors, talked to friends who went through it, chose the best surgeon and radiologist in the best hospital for me,” she recalls. “And once I did that, I made the executive decision to hand my body over to them and direct my attention to moving forward with life. That’s not to say I was happy, or thought, ‘Gee, cancer, what a blessing.’ I hated it. But I didn’t let it monopolize my focus.”

Shifting Your Attention

Instead, she shifted her attention to what was engaging and meaningful. “I would get up in the morning and look in the mirror; I was bald and I could have thought, ‘I don’t feel good, I’ll lie here in bed and watch Oprah.’ But I got dressed and booted up the computer,” she says, adding that she also concentrated on her five children and day-to-day tasks. “The thing that impressed me was it really worked. We do have much more control over our attention than we think.”

Perhaps first and foremost, “you have to choose your target,” says Gallagher. “If you don’t choose a target, your brain will choose one for you — the brain is out scanning around and saying, ‘Let’s stare at that screen, let’s listen to that infomercial.’ When you focus on something, your brain photographs that sight or sound or thought or feeling –and that becomes part of your mental album of the world. So it’s important to make those choices count.”

And when it’s not deliberately focused, the brain tends to home in on bad news. “We evolved to pay attention to painful, negative feelings for the excellent reason that if something is scaring you or making you angry, you are motivated to do something about it,” says Gallagher.

The problem is, research has shown that “negative feelings shrink your visual and conceptual reality, which limits your options,” Gallagher explains. “The attentional issue is particularly important now, when so many people are under terrific financial stress. You can’t focus on it 24/7. Focusing on the positive literally broadens your visual field; you can take in the big picture, both visually and conceptually, consider more options. You’re in a better decision-making space.”

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Overbought and moving into resistance

April 14, 2009

An update on the SPX chart today to show the market finding resistance near previous highs. We are adding a new indicator to the top of the chart, the MACD. The negative divergence in the MACD histogram reinforces the strength of this resistance as the market advance begins to stall. Finally, we have a short term reversal pattern showing in the candlesticks as an Evening Doji Star has formed over the last 3 trading days. Taken together, it looks as if profit taking may have already started.

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The NASDAQ chart shows similar resistance being met at the Jan highs with negative divergences in the MACD histogram and the Rate of Change indicator which is approaching the zero line.  Both of these confirm the loss of momentum as the market approaches resistance.

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Exactly the opposite looks to be developing in the ProShares Short S&P 500 Fund ETF (SH) as positive divergences are present with the price firming near support.  Hedging long exposure here and/or taking profits looks like a good idea.  It’s still a bear market rally at this point.

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Some positive developments

April 2, 2009

We have a lot to show, so we’ll keep each one short and sweet.

First, an update on the SPX battle with the 50 day. The bear trap looks to be pretty solid with assistance from the Feds. How much backing and filling needs done is still up for debate. We have added a new indicator to the bottom of the chart this time, the daily 13/34 exponential moving average indicator. We have it set on a favorite parameter of John Murphy at Stockcharts.com that we have referenced previously in Is it really 2001 again? Look for further reference in the charts below.  This indicator on the daily chart is more of a leading indicator (subject to some whipsaw) and becomes more valuable when combined with the medium and long period charts.  The daily indicator has turned positive (above zero) and has held positive ground for the first time since early in the year.  This is the most positive showing for this indicator since April/May of 2008.

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Here is a weekly shot of the same indicator.  Even with this indicator still deeply in negative territory (below zero) a clear positive trend change is visible.  This is confirmed by the SPX moving above the 13 week exponential moving average, which drags the indicator higher.  These are also the first positive developments in this indicator since April/May of 2008.

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Finally we have the monthly chart featuring the indicators referenced previously (MACD, RSI, ROC) plus an overlay of the 20 month Bollinger Bands set to two standard deviations.  This shows all of these indicators to have been severely stretched, yet showing signs of recovery.  The MACD histogram is now climbing for two months in a row and the RSI is closing in on 30, which marks the top of oversold territory.  The ROC has at least ceased its vertical drop and the Bollinger Bands are finally well below the current price as opposed to being violently penetrated to the downside.  This at least shows stabilization, with potential being revealed by the shorter periods.

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