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Pay Attention, Please!

Pay Attention, Please!

Pay Attention PleasePaying attention, it’s so simple, yet we don’t do it. We are so distracted by all of the “other” things we need to do that we can’t focus on what is in front of us in the moment. Paying attention is the one thing that connects us with what is happening right now. As a rule, whatever you are paying attention to is your highest priority right now. Unfortunately, paying attention has become a lost art, and it is a loss that can have serious repercussions.

In the fast paced world in which we live, we are faced with more distractions than we can count. We need to have the ability to focus our concentration and direct our attention by conscious choice and intention. Paying attention is something we can control. It is actually an awareness skill, according to Deepak Chopra. He says that paying attention is a form of total engagement with the situation and lists four steps that are involved:

  • Impartial observation – Look and listen with your senses
  • Analysis – Look and listen with your mind
  • Feeling – Look and listen with you heart
  • Meditation – Look and listen with your soul

Developing awareness on all four levels strengthens your potential for success.

One of the best ways to optimize our attention is to do one thing at a time. Although most people are able to multitask, we really can only focus on one thing at any moment. Research suggests that rapid switching between tasks reduces performance on both tasks, and increases the time it takes to complete them. A group of Stanford researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

Metaphorically, it takes less than a second to step from the safety of the curb into the path of an oncoming bus. Realistically, it can take about the same amount of time to misunderstand directions, not notice a deadline, or to simply not hear what is being said. The ability to pay attention should be under the control of your will, you have to decide when and where to focus your mind. Every action can be turned into an exercise for developing this skill. Just focus your mind on what you are doing, and try to concentrate without moving to something else. Not only will you strengthen you attention and concentration, but everything you do will be done better, more efficiently, and even faster.

In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and writer Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the process of performing a simple chore with complete attention:

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way that I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle tossed here and there on the waves.

When every simple chore becomes an opportunity and a challenge to practice focusing the mind and paying attention, the inevitable “boring” tasks become a lot more valuable and even interesting.

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