PAUSE – Pause; Attend; Unplug; Space; Ears;
Where is your attention now? I invite you to close your eyes for about one minute and notice where your attention is… Pause…
Well did you? Or are you too busy to pause? Maybe you’re just wondering, what’s the point? What’s the point of pausing? What’s the point of reading this? If you didn’t pause then its most likely you need to read on …
Why improve your attention
According to scientific research our minds are wandering 46.9% of the time. (ref: Killingsworth and Gilbert – A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind, 2010) This means that on average (according to this research) our minds attention is where it should about 53% of the time.That’s just over half the time. So this research is telling us we’d have a happier mind if we improve our attention.
Patanjali (150 BC) is reputed to have said “Attention is the first and indispensable step in all knowledge”. So as well as being happier we’d be more knowledgeable.
According to William James (1842-1910) “The ability to voluntarily bring back a wandering mind over and over again is the very root of judgement, character and will”.
Now let’s consider teams of people. Suppose your team has 30 people and everyone increases their conscious attention by just 2% (to 55% conscious attention). The increased conscious attention of the team is 2% multiplied by 30 which is 60%, which is better than having another person on your team!
The bottom line is to be better at anything we need to give it our attention. Whether it’s to be a better business person, team player, parent, musician, artist, sports person or whatever, attention is key!
So how can we improve our attention?
Simply put our attention can be taken or given.
If our attention is taken by distractions (which usually happens unconsciously) our minds can become a hyperactive mess of stress and information overload, not to mention the more important negative emotional impact on our mental wellbeing.
When our attention is given, we are consciously choosing what to give our attention too. The key word here is conscious. Ideally, we want to ensure that what we’re giving our conscious attention too is what’s truly important. How do we do this?
Here’s a useful practical question: Where is my attention needed now?
Let’s take listening for example. Do you like being listened to? Do you like speaking to someone whose attention has been taken by their mobile phones while you’re speaking to them?
Over twenty five years in mind training, I have trained thousands of people from many different cultures in many different countries and I have regularly asked these types of questions. Everyone has answered “Yes, I like to be listened too.”
Listening requires attention, ideally fully undivided attention. If when listening to someone your attention is taken, ask yourself where is my attention needed now and give it back to who’s speaking. Remember too that every time you do this you are practicing being a better listener and improving your attention span.
Internal and External distractions
Our attention can be distracted internally and externally.
Internally in two ways – we relive memories from the past or we imagine the future. Now reflecting on past memories can be useful, as long as we’re doing it with conscious attention and learning from it. Similarly imagining future scenarios can also be useful and again it needs to be done with conscious attention. Needless to say it’s best if it’s a positive future, not some imaginary doomsday horror which others want us to believe in! Where’s the best place to have our attention? In the present.
External distractions are almost infinite at this stage, especially via technology. Technology is a great servant but a terrible master. Manage the technology, don’t let it distract and manage you! For example rather than being constantly interrupted by emails and texts, set aside a time(s) each day to batch process them!
We also need to be mindful of how external vested interests “take” our attention for better or worse. A fire alarm is needless to say a very useful external distraction. However, being distracted externally by someone or some organisation with ulterior motives is not usually very useful, in fact at its worst it creates a lot of fear and conflict in the world. What’s most important for us is to be aware of where our attention is and not let it be blindly taken. Give it to where it’s most needed now.
Here’s 5 ways to improve your attention (PAUSE):
1. Pause – Close your eyes and pause. Let your attention rest on your breathing. Should your attention drift gently bring it back. As you practice and cultivate this as a daily habit your attention will improve. You will then be conscious enough to notice when it is taken and when it is given. To know more about practicing mindfulness see The Why, What and How of Mindfulness
2. Attend – Ask yourself the question – where is my attention needed now? If there’s more than one need ask – where is my attention most needed now? And give that your undivided attention.
3. Unplug – manage your technology don’t let it manage you. Batch process!
4. Space – create mental space by focusing your attention on one task at a time. Do you think you can consciously focus on more than one task at a time? Research shows it takes longer, is more stressful and the quality of the job gets worse!
5. Ears – you have two ears and one mouth, use them better! Give people your undivided attention when they’re speaking to you. It’s how you’d like to be treated and indeed it can greatly improve relationships, professional and personal!
So how can you improve your attention? Pause, Attend, Unplug, Space and Ears
Remember … PAUSE!