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Pay Attention

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When attention breaks down, problem solving breaks down.

p.14, Johann Hari, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again

I considered this statement from Johann Hari in Stolen Focus where he analyses why we can’t pay attention. While we get flooded with more information today then ever before, we have less ability to focus on it. The result – we lose depth because depth takes time and reflection, i.e. attention.

Hari recommends more free play for children and flow states for adults. Exercise, get enough sleep, and eat nutritiously for a healthy brain. Read hardcover books. Find space to let your mind wander so you can make sense of your life.

I contrasted Hari’s view of attention with Julia Cameron’s. In The Artist’s Way, she explains attention increases our capacity for delight. Delight improves our quality of life. Paying attention heals us and is an “act of connection.” (p.53) Cameron sees paying attention as a way through psychic pain.

Both are right.

Paying attention heals us in many ways. It’s the opposite of numbing out. By focusing, we lace intention with reflection. Ultimately, paying attention moves us from problem to solution.

Image showing how attention laces intention with reflection.

Problem to Solution

Unfortunately, many of us stay stuck in “problem mode.” Individually, our saboteurs love to keep us here because they want homeostasis, not growth. Societally, we get rewarded for numbing out on social media, for example, with “likes” which can actively encourage our addictions and avoidance behaviours.

As Hari points out, the path forward to solutions relies on our attention to problems.

We find solutions by brainstorming, exchanging ideas, and creating plans and processes. Solutions arise when we reflect. Daydreaming is necessary, not a “waste of time.” And, as Jung taught us, (night) dreaming lets us make connections we might not otherwise.  

All of this takes time. So, let’s take a minute to examine our perceptions of time.

Linear Time

We see time as finite, limited. From this perspective, time is a resource easily used up. Accordingly, we must protect or “maximize” the time we have, to use business parlance. Our linear view of time informs how we pay attention. Because we see time as limited, our capacity to pay attention becomes limited too.

Cyclical Time

We can look at time another way. Indigenous peoples view time as cyclical. Like the seasons shifting from dormant to verdant and back again, imagine time as circular. When we see time as circular instead of linear, we don’t use it up. Instead, time shifts just like the seasons.

Through photosynthesis, trees take in sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and energy. They have spring and summer to gather what they need to stay alive and then go dormant during fall and winter. Trees don’t need to stay verdant all year to thrive. Neither do you.

You need times of dormancy in order to be verdant at other times. This cyclical process gives you “time” to reflect. Instead of seeing time as a precious resource, think of time as a shapeshifter. It morphs but never disappears.

The gift of paying attention

Paying attention is a gift we grant ourselves. Looking closely at that maple tree can fill us with delight. We slowly heal ourselves, safe in the knowledge that there’s always enough time. When we pay attention, solutions present themselves.

Header Photo by Thanhy Nguyen on Unsplash, Delight Photo by Sarah Wolfe on Unsplash, Maple Leaves Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

Give yourself time today to really pay attention to what’s around you. Challenge yourself. I know you can do it!

You have to be open minded in order to grow. The coaching that Laura gave me opened my eyes to what and how I was doing things and allowed me to see the bigger picture. I am not done yet but I already see the changes in my everyday life.

MM

I think coaching is a great way to help you clear your mind when you get stuck with overwhelming situations or when stepping into changes in your life.

MO

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LE

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VB

Laura is very patient. She took the time to understand what was causing me to be stuck where I am today and help me build a better vision so I can continue to grow.

MM

I think Laura’s coaching was what I had been waiting for. Laura was so approachable, kind, and open. Her willingness to help and support made a difference for me. I found in her coaching new strategies, ideas, and perspectives that I could incorporate into my goals and objectives that I didn’t see before.

MO

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LE

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LM

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OS