Paying Attention: Not too little, not too much

I’m not one for watching much TV.  So when I find a programme that engrosses me, I focus my attention on it rather a lot.  On one occasion, my attention was so focused that I felt like I couldn’t breathe any more.

That must be unhealthy.  But this rather surreal happening taught me a few lessons that I’d like to share with you in this post.  Too much attention can become a bad thing.

You’ve got millions of attention focuses.  Most of your day involves giving your attention to something, even if it’s mundane.

But we take our attention for granted and forget that it’s an important commodity.  If we use it wisely and consciously, we have a lot to gain.

Let’s take account of the points:

  • At school, you’re told to pay attention.  In turn, we treat attention like an on/off switch.  We need to detune this automatic response and give it a third dimension.
  • In being attentive to unproductive, upsetting and unhelpful issues, you’re breeding negative attention.
  • Attention can lead to obsession.  Too much focus on one thing destroys the attention we give everything else.
  • Attention isn’t like multitasking.  It can be either focused or blurred.  Put your attention glasses on and stay focused!
  • You need to give just as much attention to your rest and recreation time as you do to your work time.  Chances are you do this already, but you probably didn’t recognise it in that capacity.
  • Attention needs to be fed.  It feeds off planning and preparation.  With this diet, you’ll find a pin-sharp focus.  What may have taken hours may take you mere minutes.

By regularly treating attention like an on/off switch, it’s no wonder that focus can be so hard to achieve on certain projects.

Far from flicking a switch, it requires nurturing and understanding in order to get the best from it.

So when there’s a lot on your plate, plus a desire to have some fun and then get some rest in along the way, our attention wanders all over the place in a mad haze.

Developing your attention is not difficult, but the flawed beliefs about it make development an unlikelihood.

As the points above state, we need to change our view in order to develop any effectiveness.  Our attention is always focused on something.  But we generally ignore that this is the case.  It’s only when we want to develop our attention that we consider it.

That’s like turning up to an exam and wanting to pass without any proper preparation.

So we need to turn our attention to developing our attention:

Plan ahead

The first of the ‘attention foods’.  Put simply, if you know where you’re heading, you won’t be forced to consider your position every five minutes.  Give yourself an awareness of what’s expected to achieve maximum effect.

Prepare the tools so you’re ready to work from the outset

The other ‘attention food’.

Starting on a new project feels a lot better if you’ve started on it already.  Let me explain…

When you’re making a start on something new, it’s best to collect all the necessary tools and gather the information that’s needed before you take the plunge.  This is, essentially, starting the work, but it’s a step that doesn’t bring you any closer in what you’re doing.  It’s simply a preliminary step.  If you treat it that way, your proper start can be a much brighter occurrence and you’ll feel like you’ve actually made some progress from the first moment.

When distracted, note down what you need and forget about it until later

The danger of a wandering mind isn’t half as dangerous if you’re ready for it.  When your concentration is disturbed by a brilliant idea popping into your head, write it down for later and move on.  With a developed attention, there’s no problem in picking these issues up later and giving them all your focus then.

Give yourself deadlines

Instead of working toward a tutor-inflicted deadline, why not stay in control of your own work and make your own deadlines?  Even if you shift a due date forward by just a couple of days, it gives you more control and even allows you to recover more easily from disaster.  Your attention will also be more focused, because the setup of deadlines will be your own doing.  That shows good planning ahead.

Accept limits

It’s natural for your mind to wander.  It’s going to happen.  You can’t do anything to stop it.  So if you’re looking for perfection, forget it.  That’s why attention is a tool to develop, not master to the highest level.

Set specific goals to get the best from your attention

If you create a bland set of goals, the mind will not have worked out what is truly needed.  In the resulting confusion, you won’t be able to concentrate your attention properly.  You need a solid understanding of what’s required with each goal.  It’s also further reason to set your own deadlines, so you’re certain of where you need to be and when it needs to be sorted out.

Move on before you over-expose yourself

Finally, before obsession creeps in, give your attention to something else.  No matter how much you enjoy a particular pasttime, it’s unwise to allow over-exposure.  This will breed negative attention and undo all the good work you’ve achieved in the meantime.  As the title of this post explains, you need to give the right amount of attention to what you do…not too little, not too much.

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