Attention Intervention

 Photo by  Ryoji Iwata  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Pay attention:

Right now, notice what you haven't been noticing. 

While still looking at the screen, take a deep inhale. What do you smell? Is it musky, fruity, smoky, woodsy, enticing, or unappetizing? Does it smell like the food you prepared, the scent of another's perfume, the collective inks and odors of the office? Take another deep inhale. What subtle scents can you detect?

While still looking at the screen, listen. Listen to the multitudes of noises around you. Is there a refrigerator humming, a conversation going on, an animal or insect making a noise, a vehicle or computer whirring? Can you hear the sound of your own breathing?

While still looking at the screen, feel. What is the temperature of the bottom of your feet? Are they warm in your shoes? Maybe a bit sweaty, or perhaps your toes are cold? What does your shirt feel like against your skin? Is it soft, itchy, constricting, or almost ticklish as it brushes against your side? 

While still looking at the screen, notice your thoughts. Are you reading and still thinking about one of the questions above? Are you mentally with each and every word? Are you considering what you might have for a snack as your eyes continue to scan the letters?

Isn't it odd how much was going on around (and within) you that you hadn't even noticed?

How much happens around you each second of each day that escapes your attention? What is "attention" anyway? Does this missed information even matter?

The answer to all of these:

More than you realize.

 

Don't Look Now, But...

First, let's give some attention to attention itself? See which one of these definitions captures your .... attention. (See what I did there?)

Attention, also referred to as enthrallment, is the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information. (Wikipedia)

Attention is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what may seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. …It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others. (William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890)

Attention is the most essential human resource. Attention is the energy we use to engage with the world. (Jeremy Hunter, PhD, Mindful.Org)

Our capacity for any form of attention is limited. These limitations are in part due to our need to do basic functioning in the world (think, label, move, interact). You simply couldn't handle seeing / smelling / tasting / feeling / hearing everything that is around and within you in this moment. You'd be overwhelmed and virtually paralyzed. (Like when you try to tell you computer to do too many tasks at once, it just freezes. Come to think of it, that's what happens with my kids as well.)

So the body and brain work together to filter all of this information, allowing you to become cognizant only of what the brain considers to be the most important and relevant information for keeping you alive and functioning. 

That blur to the side of you?

Within milliseconds, it registers as color / light / movement. The brain quickly uses all of your previous knowledge and the information of your surroundings to label and to decide what to do about it.

If it determines it is not note-worthy (white blur, floating, outdoors, flowers nearby = dandelion fluff. Non-harmful. Ignore.), you may not even be consciously aware that any processing at all happened. If it determines it IS note-worthy (black blur, wave-like motion on the ground, outdoors, terrain known to house wildlife = potential snake), your attention is quickly pulled in that direction.

In the cases of dandelion fluffs and snakes, this type of processing is pretty darn helpful. You wouldn't want to be distracted by every single thing floating by on the breeze, every... (squirrel!!), or to miss the snake slithering by your feet.

However, there is an infinite amount of stimuli for us to take in. For those with mostly healthy mental and physical compositions, letting this processing go on behind the scenes and living on such auto-pilot is probably ok if you are interested in just surviving life.

Want to do anything more than that?

It's time to pay attention to your attention.

 

Hey, Over Here!

Probably needless to say, your attention is pulled in millions of different directions in a typical day. Remember all of the sounds and smells and sensations that you noticed just a few minutes ago? The things that were, and are just part of the background ... things that don't necessarily demand your attention?

Beyond all of those are the countless things that are actively clamoring for your precious attention. Attention is a commodity now, and everybody wants it. There are billions of dollars being spent on how to get YOUR attention - from product advertising, to game design, to dating and social sites, to books and music and media and political arguments and - well, almost everything.

Moving away from business and into interpersonal relationships, who doesn't want someone else to give their undivided attention? It's human nature to want to be seen and heard. We all want someone else's attention.

But remember, all of this precious attention is limited. Yours is, as well as every other individual's.  

Other people are figuring out how to get you to pay attention to them and their messages, while you are simultaneously figuring out how to get every other person to direct their attention to where you want it directed.

You want your kids to listen to you when you talk. You want your spouse to do the same. You want other drivers to pay attention to your car and the flow of traffic, your doctor to pay attention to your health and well-being and what you are telling her, your waitress and the chef in back to pay attention to the food they are preparing, your politicians to pay attention to the beliefs that you hold.

You are trying to shape the world in which you live by asking others to pay attention to what you feel is most important.

I am doing the same.

We all are.

I'm saying, "pay attention to me / this". You're saying, "pay attention to me / that". Media stories are saying, "pay attention to this". TV producers are saying, "pay attention to this". Politicians are saying, "pay attention to this". 

Meanwhile, the dandelion fluffs float on by.

 

Taking Back Creative Control

Where you direct your attention determines the experience and quality of life that you will have. 

Knowing this, I see two huge, gaping problems on our current paths:

1 - we've forgotten this fact (how much our attention influences our well-being / experience of life) and

2 - we've forgotten how to communicate, without judgment, about how and why others are directing their attention where they are

In the interest of not overwhelming you, dear reader, I'm going to address those two problems in a follow-up post. I mention them here to get you thinking about the problems themselves...and how you might engage with them in your own life.

 

For now, I want you to remember:

There are countless stimuli around and within you right now that provide options for your attention.

Some of those stimuli are more demanding of that attention than others.

Your attention in any given moment is limited.

You give that attention to, first, what will help you to survive and then, second, what helps you to create the world in which you want to be living.

Every other person is doing the same - and we all understand how to survive and the type of world we want to create in different ways.

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A Practice

Try a little experiment today. See how many times you can consciously redirect your attention to the quieter stimuli that aren't yelling out for your attention....just so you begin to become more aware of these options.

Always start when you are somewhere relatively safe. (I wouldn't recommend trying this while driving down the highway or walking across a street. Best to let your brain re-direct your attention to those things that will keep you safe.)

Instead of Facebook, your email, the news site, the t.v. show, or even small talk, try to direct your attention to the subtle things happening around and within you.

As you did before, what sensual stimuli can you notice around you? The hum of a heater or air conditioner, the melody of music being played in the background, the smell of whatever was eaten for lunch, the lingering taste of the coffee you drank, the brilliant red color that pops off the color of the book cover?

What about within - What thoughts are you having about what is happening right now? What physical sensations are you feeling? Are you tired, achey, hungry, or comfortable? 

How are you breathing? Shallow? Fully? How is your posture? Slumped? Shoulders forward, head hanging down? Relaxed, tight, uplifted, energetic?

These subtle and ever-present sensual and mental stimuli are choices of building blocks for creating your everyday experiences.

We tend to build lives with blocks of attention on thoughts of worry, judgment, fear, and stress, combined with blocks of attention on email, finances, work-related duties, and family and friend conversations (if we happen to be fully paying attention to those instead of being lost in thought).

Again, you create your life by what you pay attention to.

If you find yourself stressed, overwhelmed, or just longing for something more or something different, try redirecting your attention. You don't need to vacation nor even do anything different - simply mentally switch your attention to that which is already here.

 

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*Want more resources related to this post? Be sure to sign up for the weekly newsletters that include a reminder of each week's topic, as well as other resources to dive deeper into your practice! (And a comic/cartoon. Because laughter is always healthy.) Sign up here: 

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**Please note: There will not be a post on the regularly scheduled day for Tuesday, July 17th as I will be on a family vacation! Thanks for staying with me as I take my own adventures...

Lisa WilsonComment