Becoming Aware of Your Attention Can Change Your Life!

Managing our attention has never been more difficult. The boundaries between different parts of our lives have disappeared while the number of distractions vying for our limited attention has exploded.

Given how fundamental our attention is to our life experience, it’s surprising that for most of us, it’s usually left unexamined.

Today I’ll share some ideas to help you become more aware of your attention. Why is this important? Being aware of your attention can help you manage it, which can lead to taking more control of your actions and reactions. In other words, it can change your life! So, becoming aware is an important first step in developing what I call the “superpower” of managing attention. 

First, attention is subjective.

I can have a shared experience with you (e.g., watching a movie or sporting event, enjoying a group meal, etc.) yet my experience is different from yours, in part because of “where” my attention goes.

Secondly, attention is dynamic. It’s “on the move.”

While this point deserves a longer explanation, let me just say here that as you start to pay attention to your attention, you will see that it moves with or without you. In other words, your attention moves with or without your conscious involvement. 

Stop! Think about this for a moment. When I really let this concept sink in about ten years ago, it was a game-changer. I decided to learn more about the nature of attention, which led me to another important idea:

“What you pay attention to defines your experience. Your life is made up of experiences. So, your attention has a big impact on your life.”

Third, there is a geography of attention.

It’s helpful to understand that there is a common “geography” or “landscape” that attention moves in and through. Once you know how to track the location of your attention, you can more easily begin to take ownership of it. 

Location 1 – Your Body: Attention can focus on your feelings or sensations of your body. Feeling happy or sad, feeling your heartbeat, feeling your breath in your abdomen or nostrils, feeling your feet on the floor, etc.

Location 2 – The World: Attention can be in the world as experienced by you directly through your five senses. You can be focused on something you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste.

Location 3 – Your Mind: Attention can focus on your thoughts. ‘What am I having for dinner tonight?’ ‘I can’t believe what I said at the team meeting yesterday.’ Etc..

Pay Attention to Your Attention

I encourage you to start paying attention to your attention. 

Start small, like 5 minutes per day. Begin to become more familiar with your own experience of the geography of attention. Ask yourself, where is my attention right now? Is it on my body, the world or my thoughts? 

Becoming more aware of your attention is critical to improving your ability to manage it. 

In my next blog I’ll build on these ideas and provide additional steps you can take on this journey. 

The concepts above are based on the work of Gary Sherman. I’m grateful to Gary for his graciousness in allowing me to use his material.