Updated: Jul 8
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What if you could master a mental skill that has the potential to change physical reality, including everything in your life? That skill is paying attention: the ability to focus our minds deliberately and purposefully. Indeed, the uniquely human endeavor of paying attention could well be one of the most powerful catalysts for change in the universe. Honing your attention skills is a great investment in your ability to create the life you want.
The "observer effect" posited by quantum physicists says that human attention affects matter because attention causes particles to behave more like waves. Think about that: when directed deliberately, human attention changes physical reality! Most of us have realities we want to change - what more motivation do we need to learn to direct our attention?
You might be saying that you already know how to pay attention - but for most people, consistently and deliberately directing one's attention is not an automatic behavior. It takes continued conscious effort to counteract our built-in survival mechanisms such as the harsh voice of the inner critic, the constant activation of fight-or-flight hypervigilance, and run-of-the-mill anxiety. This is especially true when times are tough, which they often are. In fact, if we do not take the time to pause and learn to focus our attention deliberately, the world will come looking for our attention, steal it from us, and scatter it to the four winds.
How can we learn to pay more attention during our daily lives?
There are some simple (if not easy) approaches and tools to help hone your focus and develop your attention skills.
Integrating meditation and mindfulness into our lives is key. Just ten minutes of meditation per day can have far-reaching impacts, as does continually practicing the art of being in the present moment. Take some time to research the vast fields of mindfulness and meditation to find a practice that works for you. This app worked really well for me.
Improving our organization and planning efforts can also be hugely impactful. Nothing breaks our focus more than missing meetings or deadlines. Find the lists, planners, and routine that will work for you to organize your tasks and responsibilities, and make sure you deliberately block off time for both focused and unfocused activities. I created some planners here you can try.
Another tip for mastering the skill of paying attention is to practice active listening. This means fully engaging in a conversation, not just waiting for your turn to speak. The next time you are in a conversation, practice listening to understand rather than to respond. Do not interrupt the person whom you are speaking with, and when they are finished, ask clarifying questions and paraphrase what they said to confirm your understanding. Active listening not only helps you pay attention but also strengthens your relationships.
Paying close attention to your surroundings can also improve your attention skills. Most of us are constantly looking at our phones these days. Put your away and notice the details in your environment such as the colors, shapes, or the feel of the air. Simply taking a short walk and noticing everything in your environment, big and small, can improve focus while calming and uplifting the spirit. Even if you can't go outside, you might be surprised at what you find inside, like this bathroom tile in an old building in Chicago that made my day recently.
If you're doubtful as to whether these practices can change your physical reality and your life, you won't know until you try!