I know, I know. Everyone is doing it. Everyone who is successful that is.
Meditation is all the rage in this super fast paced, distractible world. It is thought of as the holy grail to offset all of the ills of modern attention-sucking living.
But is meditation the only way to be the boss of your attention? Ugh, say it aint so!
Let me explain a little about attention, we’ll explore a few other non-meditation possibilities and then decide. Sound good?
Attention is how we actively (either consciously or subconsciously) allow into our awareness one thing and not another. We pay attention to stimuli going on outside our heads and thoughts and emotions inside our heads. Sights, sounds, and sensations (both internal and external) all vie for the limited amount of awareness we have at any given moment.
Notably, we often give preference to the sights, sounds and sensations that are the most interesting to us. Or those that are the most threatening to us!
The goal of being the boss of our attention is to cultivate one’s ability to choose what we want to attend to versus being at the whim of what our brains want or our habits choose to attend to.
So, how do we get better at choosing and sticking with what we choose?
An easy and pretty accurate way to think about attention has been to liken it to a muscle. Muscles are strengthened with use and get weak without use. Using this analogy, in order for us to be the boss of our attention we need to practice using it to strengthen it.
Some ways we can practice and strengthen our attention (without meditating) are:
Set a timer. When you do an activity, set a timer and only do that one activity until the timer is done. No exceptions (unless, of course, you naturally finish the activity before the timer is up.) Often we bop between activities, web pages, notification blips, straightening the rug, going to get water etc. and in doing so are constantly weakening our ability to stay focused. A gym analogy for this would be like like doing one push up, going over and doing a couple of leg presses then picking up a weight and doing a few bicep curls. Sure all those exercises may do something helpful for you physically but think of how focusing on one thing at a time would improve your efforts considerably. If you set a timer to do this a few times at work each day or with a few activities around the house each day you’ll do your reps and strengthen your attention in no time!
Count to 3 before you look. Another way to strengthen your attention is to disrupt the autopilot reaction you have to stimuli. You can do this by counting to 3 the next time you’re working and some other sight, sound or sensation tries to grab your attention. The practice of delaying the urge to check out everything that tries to get our attention does an amazing job at strengthening our attention. The ability to tune things out is crucial to cultivating the ability to be the boss of our attention. The caveat here, of course, is if something is grabbing your attention because it is a safety issue. In that case, autopilot is the way to go!
Give up the multi-tasking dream! It doesn’t work. Yep, even for you. Research has found that despite our opinions to the contrary, humans can’t multi-task. What we end up doing is switching our attention from one task to another, not doing them simultaneously and not doing them particularly well. We also lose a lot of time and effort in the process. So, in order to become the boss of our attention, we need to recognize this and stop multi-tasking. It’s a hard habit to break but try it and see if your attention doesn’t strengthen as a result!
Now you might say that attention has a biochemical component that makes it more difficult for some. And while that may be true, the keywords are ‘more difficult’. There are many things that make choosing and sustaining attention hard. Just like there are many things that make going to a gym and working out our muscles hard. That doesn’t mean we’re destined for weakness and tiny muscles. It just means that it’s going to take more effort to get to the gym and get strong.
Same with our attention. If you have a predisposition for difficulty paying attention, bump up your practice of the 3 strategies above and make it more of a priority. It may be harder or more challenging but it is possible to improve.
Follow the 3 practices above and become an attention boss…without meditating!
Do you have any strategies to add? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear about them.