The Secret to High Performance and Fulfilment: Psychologist Daniel Goleman Explains the Power of Focus

“Concentration is one of the happiest things in my life,” says novelist Haruki Murakami in a 2011 New York Times Magazine profile. “If you cannot concentrate, you are not so happy.” In this, the author of A Wild Sheep Chase surely has the agreement of the author of Emotional Intelligence, the psychologist and writer Daniel Goleman. But Goleman expresses it a bit differently, as you can hear — in detail and at length — in “Focus: The Secret to High Performance and Fulfillment,” an Intelligence Squared talk based on the book he published eighteen years after the bestselling Emotional IntelligenceFocus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

Attention, Goleman tells us, is under siege, not least by devices “devised to interrupt us, to seduce us, to draw our attention from this to that.” He quotes the famed economist, political scientist, and cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon’s observation that “information consumes attention. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” — but he doesn’t mention that Simon made it nearly fifty years ago, long before the invention of most of what besieges our attention today. (Then again, even medieval monks complained of constant distraction.) Most of us can feel, on some level, that to the extent we have trouble focusing, we also have trouble performing at the level we’d like to in our professional and social life.

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What can we do about it? After offering psychological explanations of what’s going on with our ability to focus (or lack thereof), Goleman suggests strategies we can use to master our “emotional distractors” and work out the “mental muscle” that is our attention. (This analogy with physical exercise would get no argument from Murakami, who runs as rigorously as he writes.) Though “mind-wandering is absolutely essential for creative insight,” as we’ve previously discussed here on Open Culture, the critical skill is to bring our mind back from its wandering at will. This we can practice through Buddhist-style breathing meditation, a subject to which Goleman has since devoted a good deal of research, and just one of the practices that can help us live our lives to the fullest by allowing us to see, hear, consider, and engage with what’s right in front of us.

As Goleman lays out a suite of attention-building techniques and their benefits, he touches on theories and findings from cognitive psychology that have by now been popularized into familiarity: the Stanford “marshmallow test,” for example, which appears to show that children who can delay gratification have better life outcomes than those who cannot. Such outcomes can be ours as well, he argues, if we make a habit of “lengthening the gap between impulse and action” in our own habits. “I’m not a fast thinker, but once I am interested in something, I am doing it for many years,” as Murakami says. “I’m kind of a big kettle. It takes time to get boiled, but then I’m always hot.” As for the rest of us, couldn’t we all stand to become bigger kettles than we are?

Related Content:

How to Focus: Five Talks Reveal the Secrets of Concentration

How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows

The Case for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts & Doing Valuable “Deep Work” Instead, According to Prof. Cal Newport

How to Take Advantage of Boredom, the Secret Ingredient of Creativity

How Meditation Can Change Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Buddhist Practice

Medieval Monks Complained About Constant Distractions: Learn How They Worked to Overcome Them

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch a Surreal 1933 Animation of Snow White, Featuring Cab Calloway & Betty Boop: It’s Ranked as the 19th Greatest Cartoon of All Time

Of the three collaborations jazz singer Cab Calloway made with cute cartoon legend Betty Boop, this 1933 Max Fleischer-directed “Snow White” is probably the most successful. It certainly is the most strange—more hallucinatory than the first in the series “Minnie the Moocher”, and less slapstick-driven than “The Old Man of the Mountain.” It is a singular marvel and rightly deserves being deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994. It was also voted #19 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time in a poll of leading animators.

When she made her debut in 1930, Betty Boop would have been recognizable to audiences as the embodiment of the flapper and the sexual freedom of the Jazz Age that was currently in free-fall after the Wall Street crash of 1929. Only a few years before her premiere, Boop would have been the mascot of the age; now she was a bittersweet reminder of a time that had already passed. With a champagne bubble of a voice, kiss curls, daring hemline, plunging neckline, and the ever present garter belt, she was a cartoon character definitely not designed for kids. That her best films are collaborations with Cab Calloway attest to that. Calloway would make sure his Betty Boop cartoons would screen in a city a week or two before he would play a gig. His “advance woman” as he called her helped sell more tickets.

Accompanying her in this film are the Fleischer’s original character Koko the Clown and Bimbo the Pup, which for this film are sort of empty vessels: they protect Betty, they get knocked out, and Koko gets inhabited by the spirit of Cab Calloway, who then turns into a ghost, all legs and head, no torso. (The ghost is animated through rotoscoping over Calloway’s own film footage.) The Queen, whose talking mirror changes his mind over “the fairest in the land” once seeing Betty Boop, sentences her to death, and then chases her through the underworld before turning into a dragon. At the end, Boop and her gang turn the dragon inside out like a sock, a gross gag not seen again (I’m going to guess) until one of the Simpsons’ Halloween Specials.

In the middle of all this bouncy, surreal mayhem is Calloway’s ghost singing “St. James Infirmary Blues,” a mournful tale of a dead girlfriend and the singers plans for the funeral. The origin of the song is shrouded in mystery, possibly a folk ballad by way of New Orleans jazz. Whatever the source, Koko/Cab sings it to the now frozen and entombed Betty Boop, with the seven dwarves as pallbearers. Koko/Cab turns into a number of objects during his dance, including a bottle of booze and a coin on a chain.

This Snow White does in fact take place during winter and writer Anne Blakeley makes the case that the flapper, the snow, the ice, the passage through the underworld, and Calloway’s song allude to a fall from grace, innocence to experience, through drug abuse—in particular the very snowy cocaine. (I mean, could be! But the film is so odd as to refute any definitive reading.)

The animation was designed and completed by one man: Roland Crandall, possibly as a reward from Fleischer for not leaving for the sunny west coast and the more profitable Disney. Crandall worked half a year on the project and that’s really what gives it its one of a kind nature. Every element, whether animated or in the background, has been lovingly rendered. Foreground and background fight for your attention, and when the film finishes, you want to start all over again to see what you missed.

Lastly, let’s praise the vibe of this film, which places its “star” on ice for half the film, and seems none the worse for it. “Snow White”—four years before Disney’s feature version—is a hypnogogic vision, a half-remembered daydream that takes place while the radio is turned down imperceptibly low.

The animation will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Related Content:

Cab Calloway Stars in “Minnie the Moocher,” a Trippy Betty Boop Cartoon That’s Ranked as the 20th Greatest Cartoon of All Time (1932)

The Trick That Made Animation Realistic: Watch a Short History of Rotoscoping

The Harlem Jazz Singer Who Inspired Betty Boop: Meet the Original Boop-Oop-a-Doop, “Baby Esther”

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Karen O & Willie Nelson Release a New Cover Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure”

Today, Karen O and Willie Nelson unveiled their cover of the iconic David Bowie and Queen classic “Under Pressure.” Thematically, it’s a song for our pressure-filled times. But this version will keep you centered and calm. Put it on endless loop through next Tuesday.

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Related Content:

Listen to Freddie Mercury and David Bowie on the Isolated Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pressure,’ 1981

Watch David Bowie & Annie Lennox in Rehearsal, Singing “Under Pressure,” with Queen (1992)

Watch Queen’s Stunning Live Aid Performance: 20 Minutes Guaranteed to Give You Goose Bumps (July 13, 1985)

The History of Soviet Rock: From the 70s Underground Rock Scene, to Soviet Punk & New Wave in the 1980s

“As long as you’ve got a pack of cigarettes,” sings Viktor Tsoi, the Soviet Union’s biggest ever rock star, “life can’t be all that shabby.” When Tsoi died in a car crash in 1990, Please Kill Me writes, “it was, to a young person in the Soviet Union, as if Bob Dylan, James Dean and Muhammad Ali all died simultaneously.” When Yuliya Abasheva, born in the year of Tsoi’s death, first heard him sing, “I was thrilled to the core of my being. I literally fell in love with his music, and I immediately realized that I didn’t want to listen to any music but Kino.”

What, you’ve never heard of Viktor Tsoi? Or Kino? Or Soviet rock? Well, you’re in for a treat. The two-part series on Soviet rock from Bandsplaining featured here covers all the big names from the scene, bands who first came together in the 1970s and exploded into legitimacy in the 80s, thanks to the KGB, ironically, in 1981, when “some Communist Party genius decided to open a number of rock clubs around the Soviet Union to control and treat the rock mania from within,” Auckland-based Moscovite Anastasia Doniants writes. “For the first time since the early 1930s, the cool kids had a place to socialize openly, but still under the watchful KGB eye.”

Foreign jazz and rock had circulated in samizdat form throughout the country since the 1950s, some of it on repurposed X-Ray film. And Russian hipsters, known as stilyagi, had developed their own underground style and tastes. But forming a band and performing for an audience is a major step beyond listening to illicit records in secret. It simply couldn’t be done at scale without official sanction—with no radio play, commercial recording studios, or paying gigs. Once said sanction arrived, bands like Kino, Akvarium, Time Machine, and Autograph took off.

But it was hardly a smooth transition from underground to mainstream. “The vast authoritarian government would seem to constantly backpedal,” says Bandsplaining, “allowing some artistic freedoms, then taking them away. Numerous bands were popular one moment, then banned, censored, or even jailed the next.” Accused of being dissidents, rock stars like Tsoi were also accused, as recently as just a few years ago, of being “CIA operatives trying to destabilize the Soviet regime.” While the claim may be far-fetched, it is not off the mark entirely.

The U.S. was keen to use any cultural means to undermine Soviet authority. But a “rock subculture,” Carl Schreck writes at The Atlantic, “had been percolating in the Soviet Union for decades by the time Gorbachev came to power in 1985.” It was entirely homegrown and spread—as it was everywhere in the world—by disaffected teenagers desperate for a good time. Learn more about this passionate scene and its subtly subversive music in the two-part series above. Find tracklists of all the bands featured on the documentary’s YouTube pages.

Related Content: 

Did the CIA Write the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” One of the Bestselling Songs of All Time?

The Soviets Who Bootlegged Western Music on X-Rays: Their Story Told in New Video & Audio Documentaries

Rare Grooves on Vinyl from Around the World: Hear Curated Playlists of Arabic, Brazilian, Bollywood, Soviet & Turkish Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” & Bach’s “Prelude in C Major” Get Turned into Dazzling Musical Animations by an Artist with Synesthesia

Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

—Wassily Kandinsky

We may owe the history of modern art to the condition of synesthesia, which causes those who have it to hear colors, see sounds, taste smells, etc. Wassily Kandinsky, who pioneered abstract expressionism in the early 20th century, did so “after having an unusually visual response to a performance of Wagner’s composition Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theatre,” the Denver Museum of Art notes. He was so moved by the moment that he “abandoned his law career to study painting at the prestigious Munich Academy of Fine Arts. He later described the life-changing experience: ‘I saw all my colors in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.’”

Kandinsky never heard Coltrane, but if he had, and had access to 3D rendering software, he might have made something very much like the short animation above from Israeli artist Michal Levy. “Roughly 3 per cent of people experience synaesthesia,” writes Aeon, “a neurological condition in which people have a recurring sensory overlap, such as … envisioning letters and numbers each with their own inherent colour.”

Levy’s condition is one of the most common forms, like Kandinsky’s: “chromaesthesia, in which sounds and music provoke visuals.” Where the Russian painter saw Wagner in “wild, almost crazy lines,” Levy sees the “rollicking notes” of Coltrane’s Giant Steps as a “kinetic, cascading cityscape built from colourful blocks of sound.”

After visualizing her experience of Coltrane, Levy created the animation above, Dance of Harmony, to illustrate what happens when she hears Bach. During a maternity leave, working with her friend, animator Hagai Azaz, she set herself the challenge of showing, as she describes it, “the cascading flow of emotion, to make the feeling contagious, by using only color, the basic shape of circles, and minimalist motion, assigning to each musical chord the visual elements that correspond to it synaesthetically.”

It is fascinating to compare Levy’s descriptions of her condition with those of other famous synesthetes like Vladimir Nabokov and, especially Kandinsky, who in essence first showed the world what music looks like, thereby giving art a new visual language. Levy calls her synesthesia art, an “emotional voyage of harmony,” and includes in her visualization of Bach’s famous prelude an “unexpected elegiac sidebar of love and loss,” Maria Popova writes. Read Levy’s full description of Dance of Harmony here and learn more about the “extraordinary sensory condition called synesthesia” here.

via Aeon

Related Content: 

An Artist with Synesthesia Turns Jazz & Rock Classics Into Colorful Abstract Paintings

Jazz Deconstructed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Groundbreaking and Radical?

Deconstructing Bach’s Famous Cello Prelude–the One You’ve Heard in Hundreds of TV Shows & Films

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagnes

A Glass Floor in a Dublin Grocery Store Lets Shoppers Look Down & Explore Medieval Ruins

In South Korea, where I live, many recent buildings — the new Seoul City Hall, Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza — have incorporated the century-upon-century old ruins discovered on their sites. This makes literally visible, often through clear glass floors, the “5,000 years of unbroken history” about which one often hears boasts in Korea. But nor is Europe historically impoverished, and there the window-onto-the-past architectural technique has been applied in even less likely places: a new Dublin location, for instance, of German chain discount supermarket Lidl.

“Architects discovered the remains of an 11th-century house during the development of the site on Aungier Street,” says the video from Irish broadcaster RTÉ above. “The sunken-floored structure has been preserved and is displayed beneath the glass.” Archaeological site director Paul Duffy described the discovery as potentially having “functioned as many things, as a house or an extra space for the family. It’s a domestic structure, so you have to imagine that there would have been a suburb here of Hiberno-Norse Dubliners, who were effectively the ancestors of the Vikings.”

We’re a long way indeed from James Joyce’s Dubliners of 900 years later. But the new Lidl has put more than one formerly buried era of the city’s past on display: “A second glass panel near the checkout tills allows shoppers to glimpse an 18th-century ‘pit trap’ from the stage of the old Aungier Street Theatre,” writes Irish Central’s Shane O’Brien, pit traps being devices “used to bring an actor on stage as if by magic. Another working area under the building preserves “the foundations of the medieval parish church of St. Peter, which served parishioners for more than 600 years between 1050 AD and 1650 AD.”

In the RTÉ video, Dublin City Archaeologist Ruth Johnson frames this as a challenge to the speed-oriented construction model — “put up a hoarding, excavate a site, and then put up a development” — prevalent during Ireland’s recent “Celtic Tiger” period of economic growth. That and other factors have made the built environment of Dublin, a city of many charms, less interesting than it could be. In his recent book Trans-Europe Express‘ chapter on Dublin, critic Owen Hatherley writes that “contemporary Irish architecture is marked by a striking parsimony, a cheapness and carelessness in construction.” Looking to the past isn’t always the answer, of course, but in this case Lidl has done well to take it literally.

via Colossal

Related Content:

Magnificent Ancient Roman Mosaic Floor Unearthed in Verona, Italy

Explore Meticulous 3D Models of Endangered Historical Sites in Google’s “Open Heritage” Project

See the Expansive Ruins of Pompeii Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before: Through the Eyes of a Drone

Watch Ancient Ruins Get Restored to their Glorious Original State with Animated GIFs: The Temple of Jupiter, Luxor Temple & More

James Joyce’s Dublin Captured in Vintage Photos from 1897 to 1904

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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