Paying Attention

By Linda Adams, President of GTI

When we hear the words “pay attention”, it reminds us of being children when our teachers and parents ordered us to do it.  We hear it as a negative:  pay attention tune in self“You’re not paying attention” or “I need your undivided attention”.  It usually means “I’m going to tell you something you might not be interested in or don’t want to hear.  Listen anyway.”  In the military, “Attention!” is an order and there’s even a specified way to “stand at attention” ready to obey the next order.

I want to discuss the value of paying attention as a way of enriching our everyday lives because I believe that consciously deciding to pay attention makes a hugely significant difference in how we think and feel and behave.  As Anne Lamott put it:  “There is ecstasy in paying attention.”

The Price of Not Paying Attention

We can miss many of the moments of our lives–each day–because we aren’t fully present for them and are at least partially unaware of what we’re doing or experiencing.  We’re on auto pilot.

Often, we give several activities our partial attention and aren’t conscious of diffusing our focus because it has become such a habit. We even pride ourselves on being able to multi-task.  How many times have you talked on the phone and handled another task, say reading through your email or even typing a response, at the same time?  Or eaten breakfast, watched the morning news and looked through the paper or worked the crossword puzzle at the same time?  Or kept your eye on a television program while your spouse or child was talking to you?  Or were so intent on getting a task done and moving on that you didn’t take the time to converse with or even smile at someone who assisted you in a store or bank?  These are some examples from my own life and I could cite more.

Ironically, while we multi-task to get more accomplished which one would think would give us a sense of satisfaction, it seems that the opposite often happens–we feel a sense of dissatisfaction, a lack of fulfillment–where’s the meaning?

Paying Attention to Yourself

This is not selfish.  It is not the attitude of “Everything is about me.”  It is showing high regard for yourself. It means valuing yourself enough to give your thoughts, feelings, needs, ideas, goals and aspirations your full attention.  It means taking the time and effort to go within yourself and discover what you feel, need, value or believe at any given moment.  It means letting go of assumptions and judgments and letting what’s true for you emerge.  Only then will what you say and do be in alignment with how you feel.  Only then can you have authentic relationships with other people in your life.

Paying Attention in Your Relationships

Most of us are sensitive to whether others are giving us their attention. And we know how it feels not to have another person’s full attention when we’re talking to them.  We can feel discounted, disregarded and it’s almost certain that we will not have a significant connection with them.  Conversely, we know how satisfying it is when others attend carefully to us.  When you give someone your undivided attention, you’re sending a message that they are worthy of it.  You convey to them that you are noticing, concentrating, focusing on what they are saying and feeling–both verbally and non-verbally.  By listening, you get into their shoes, understand their frame of reference, different though it may be from your own.

This is an essential skill. When you listen with genuine interest without judgment and instead of planning what you’re going to say next, it means that you can truly hear and understand the needs of your customers and clients. And of your spouse and children and friends and other with whom you have relationships that matter to you. Only when there is this kind of listening can relationships can flourish.

Try This Out

Starting now, experiment today by observing your ability to give each person and each activity your full attention.  When you notice yourself being distracted, without judging yourself for it, try to filter out everything except the person in front of you or the task at hand and give it your complete attention.