Knowing you, you’ve engaged a mindfulness routine, and now you’re NEVER disrupted by noise or distraction, right?! Lol! Just kidding.
Focusing your attention amidst life’s constant distractions is incredibly challenging, even for advanced practitioners. Hour to hour and day to day, its’ difficult not to get lost in thought or be pushed and pulled by the next interruption.
So that’s where the “superpower” of managing your attention comes in. I’d like to introduce you to a few ideas related to managing your attention that can help you to be more mindful in all situations. (And maybe even while you meditate, if that’s your practice.)
Let’s start with these underlying principles:
(a) What you pay attention to defines your experience.
(b) Your life is a collection of experiences.
(c) It’s a straight line between these two points: shifting your relationship with your attention can be life-changing.
Next, I’ll introduce you to some powerful ideas that really changed my understanding of – and how I experienced – my attention. You too may find that these ideas spark new possibilities for being more mindful.
First, attention is subjective.
You and I could have a shared experience (e.g. eating a meal, watching a movie) yet my experience is different from yours, in part because of “where” my attention goes.
Second, attention is dynamic. It’s “on the move”.
As you start to pay attention to your attention, you will see that it moves with or without you, meaning with or without your conscious involvement. Stop! Think about this for a moment. Let that sink in, it’s a game-changer!
Third, there is a landscape of attention.
This idea comes from the work of Gary Sherman who uses the terminology “the geography of attention”.
It’s helpful to understand that there is a common “geography” that attention moves in and through. This knowledge helps you locate your attention at any given moment. If you’ve done a mindfulness workshop with me, you’ll recognize the “locations”.
Your Body: Attention can focus on your feelings or sensations of your body. Feeling happy or sad, feeling your pulse, feeling your breath in your abdomen or nostrils, etc.
The World: Attention can be in the world (or more accurately, your world) as experienced by you directly through your five senses. You can be focused on something you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste.
Your Mind: Attention can focus on your thoughts, like. “I’m excited to see if this article resonates!”, “I wonder what I’ll eat for lunch?”, etc.
I encourage you to start paying attention to your attention.
- Start small, like 5 min per day.
- Begin to become more familiar with your own experience of the geography of attention.
- Ask yourself, where is my attention right now? Is it on my body, the world or my thoughts?
As you become more aware of your attention, you’ll have more capacity to manage it.
Managing your attention is a learned set of skills. It’s also a superpower for life – both for your moment-to-moment living and your entire life. Essentially, it’s about being able to control or direct your attention “on demand”.
- Notice when your attention has drifted and non-judgmentally “bring it back”
- Bring yourself to the present moment “on demand”. By paying attention to your attention, you’ll become more aware of when your attention is not where you want it to be
For example, say you are in a Zoom meeting, and you notice that your attention is in your mind, worrying about an upcoming difficult conversation. You can kindly say to yourself, “Oh, my attention has wandered, and I want to bring it back to this meeting,” and then you can reset yourself.
And I don’t know about you, but I found that being in the present was difficult. I had to know HOW to get there!
Here’s where the geography of attention is helpful. Putting your attention on either your body or your world instantly brings you to the present moment. In fact, you cannot feel a bodily sensation, listen to a sound or see something at any other time than the present moment!
Also, please know that strengthening your attention is not about always being in control of attention. It’s about controlling it more often, hopefully, “on demand.” It takes practice. It is a practice!
So, my invitation to you is to create some form of mindfulness practice. How you manage your attention has a BIG impact on your life. As you direct your attention more regularly and start to spend more time in the present moment, you will notice a positive shift in your experience. Some of my clients note they become less susceptible to distractions, reduce their stress levels, and improve their productivity.
Now isn’t that a superpower waiting to be developed?!!
This is one of the most cogent descriptions of being mindful that I’ve seen lately. with so much “attention” on mindfulness and so many sources of advice and practice, many do not sticK the LANDING. This one is going to stick.
I like it when I hear “it sticks”! Thank you Glen, for that reflection and I’m glad that it resonates. My mission in all I do is to ensure new models of being human “Stick” 🙂 Grateful 🙏🏻