Attention please! Before we dig into our topic du jour, I’m wishing a happy 3rd anniversary to my book Wild World, Joyful Heart! This past weekend marked three years since book launch, and oh what a three years it’s been for us. A wild world, indeed.
Don’t let the breezy title fool you! This book DELIVERS on support and guidance for empowered well-being…despite how off-kilter the world around us might feel. It’s a book that only grows MORE relevant as time goes on.
“Laurie Warren delivers both intriguing philosophy and tactical steps in this enjoyable, easy read. She writes in a way that draws you in and leaves you with unshakeable confidence on how to feel better in your everyday life.”
Thank you to Emma Seppälä, PhD for that endorsement. Seppälä is the Stanford and Yale professor who wrote The Happiness Track, another great read. Kindrid spirits in the writing world.
Now on to our topic du jour: Attention.
Where we place our attention dictates how our life unfolds. Yet many of us live our life “multitasking,” moving our attention from focus to focus, or not focusing our attention at all. Not because we’re ding-dongs, but because this behavior has become the norm. And, as I outlined in Wild World, Joyful Heart, something being common doesn’t mean it’s normal. Let’s explore.
How attention creates our life
What we focus our attention on—moment to moment—adds together over time to become our life experience. What do I mean by that?
Typically, attention follows perceived importance. Maybe my house isn’t very clean, but it doesn’t register on my radar because other things feel more important. Then I find out that some friends are dropping by, and my attention swings like a floodlight onto my house cleanliness. It’s moved up on the importance scale.
You may notice I said, “Typically, attention follows perceived importance.” The word perceived is important here.
Say I’m sitting having dinner with my kids. My phone pings and I pick it up in the middle of my son telling me about a struggle with his recent chemistry exam. Because I have notifications enabled on my phone, my phone seems very important all the time, even though it’s not. It grabs my attention, even though my son’s struggles are more important to me.
Yet grabbing my phone in the middle of his story may very well leave him with the assumption that my phone notifications rank above him in importance. An easy assumption to make, given that was where my attention swung in the middle of what he was saying.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking that I’m successfully multi-tasking with that move. Let’s blow the doors off this whole multitasking myth.
The multitasking myth
The human brain is not designed for multitasking. Hard stop.
We’re wired to be monotaskers, focusing on one thing at a time. When we feel like we’re doing two or more things at once, we’re actually task-switching. Our attention flits back and forth between two (or more) things.
The typical outcomes of us monotaskers trying to multitask is that we:
- Become less efficient
- Are more likely to make mistakes
- Cobble our learning abilities
- Increase our feelings of stress
And, when we’re lunching with someone who’s repeatedly checking their phone or Apple watch, we feel that we have their divided attention.
Multitasking causes far more problems than it solves and we’re better off focusing on one thing at a time. Sometimes we need to retrain ourselves to do this, living as we do in the age of fragmented attention. We retrain ourselves to have INTENTION with our attention.
Intention with our attention
It’s easy to get distracted, on a good day! Adding insult to injury, when we continually task-switch and lose our focus, we’re actually training our brain to be unfocused.
The great news? Our brain is neuroplastic which means we can create new (focused) neural pathways by re-training our brain. We become intentioned with our attention. How might we do this? It’s a simple, but not always easy, 3 step process:
- In any given chunk of your day, be clear about what’s important to you. Not what feels URGENT (like a phone notification or an email from an irate customer), but instead what’s IMPORTANT. There’s no right or wrong way to suss this out because it’s largely predicated on your values and your goals. Get clear on those and true importance will sort itself out.
- Eliminate or reduce distraction potential. For example, if my son is talking about something that’s troubling and important to him, and his wellbeing is important to me, maybe I put my phone on silent. This can feel hard. But the truth is, the world ran just fine before everyone could reach us 24/7. There’s a 99% chance that whatever it is, can wait.
- If you find yourself off track, simply notice and redirect your focus. Like many intentional shifts in our personal growth and wellbeing, this is like a meditation. Many folks have the idea that “good meditators” sit in blissful focused attention for hours. Closer to the truth: They get off track, notice, and bring their attention back to what their meditation focus is—such as keeping the mind trained on following the breath. That IS meditation. It’s training the mind.
As much as some of us (hand raised here) like to check things off as complete, this is not one of those things. Like clean eating, a fitness routine and keeping your living space tidy, there’s no completion date. Instead, having intention with our attention is a PRACTICE. We just keep at it!
If we don’t give our work focused attention, it’s unlikely we’re doing our best work. If we don’t give our kids focused attention, this can deeply affect their sense of wholeness, worthiness and wellbeing. If we don’t give a friendship focused attention, the friendship can flounder and wane.
In this way, our attention creates our life experience and our life legacy. There’s a saying that “what we put our attention on, grows” and my exploration of this idea shows that we create our life with our attention. I invite you to reflect on this and share your thoughts in the comment section below. How do YOU create mindfulness around your attention?
To your empowered wellbeing,