To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
― Mary Oliver
It is easy NOT to pay attention. We know we’ve been inattentive when we arrive home and can’t remember the route we took, or we find our lost phone in the refrigerator. Something pops up on our phone, and we turn away from the person we’re with. The realities of busy, over-committed lives and stimulation from technology, including news of global chaos, can keep our attention scattered to the corners of the earth.
The dictionary defines attention as “observant care, consideration.” For many of us, this is missing in our lives.
It does not surprise, then, that practicing mindfulness has become trendy, as an antidote to the speed and stimulation. The trouble is that the word “mindfulness” has been so hyped, we’re not sure what it means.
For right now, let’s just say, as Mary Oliver does, that learning to pay attention is useful to us, that it IS “our endless and proper work.” Sharon Salzberg says that cultivating attention “helps us find the power to be kind to ourselves…and this movement of the heart…affects everything.” So it’s important.
What do we know about attention?
- How precious it is to receive someone’s undivided attention. And, conversely, how frustrating to receive someone’s half-attention.
- Attention is not just an activity of the brain. Attention focuses the whole of us…mind, body, spirit, emotions…in fact, maybe naming those parts is a mistake in itself. Attention is the focus of our fullness, who we are. When we give a person or a project our full attention, it is satisfying and kind to ourselves and others.
- We can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. We think we can. We try. And we can’t. Research shows we are not efficient or effective when we multi-task.
- Attention is a limited resource for each of us…limited by our energy and our habits. We can squander it. Sonya Parker said, “Whatever you focus your attention on will become important to you even if it’s unimportant.” In other words, what we focus on grows. So if we pay attention to something that makes us mad, our anger will grow. The reason gratitude practice is so powerful is that it harnesses our attention positively every day and literally rewires our brain.
- For dealing with irritants, we can learn to pay attention without giving the stressor energy. This is an idea I learned from Charles Hobbs, and I’m forever grateful. Yesterday I was working on my new computer and repeatedly lost my place and accidentally erased things. Remembering “give it attention, not energy,” I had a choice about getting all fussed up or not. ”It is okay. Just do it over,” I told myself. My energy and mood did not plummet. Give small frustrations attention, but not energy.
- It helps when our attention is aligned with what matters to us. To benefit from this fact, we need to be clear about what matters to us. Kevin W. McCarthy, author of several books on finding your purpose, has designed a nifty 5-minute, digital process to discover your purpose. I recommend it highly. https://on-purpose.me/Once you’re clear about your purpose, deciding where to focus your attention becomes easier. (On sale right now for $9. I do not receive any money from Kevin…just the benefit of this great tool. And if you share your results with me, I’ll share mine with you.)
COACHING TIPS AND QUESTIONS:
- What would it take for you to give people you’re with your undivided attention?
- Practice being still and present – feeling it in your whole self – for at least 15 seconds, several times a day.
- For one day try doing one thing at a time instead of multi-tasking. Notice how productive you are.
- Give annoyances attention without energy
- Want help to discover your purpose and align your attention with it? Go to https://on-purpose.me/