While cycling along a country road next to the coast one sunny arvo, enjoying the smell of cow shit wafting in the ocean breeze, a few thoughts popped into my head about attention.
Attention is where our emotions, thoughts, feelings and actions intersect, which means our attention is where life happens.
Yet, many of us haven't been taught the skill of attention control, which is choosing what we pay attention to and what we choose to ignore. We are just expected to know how to focus, switch on, concentrate, listen carefully, ignore and manage our distractions, and be good at it.
It's a load of cow shit without the sweet ocean breeze to expect us to do something well, or even at all, when we haven't actually been taught how to do it. This expectation stinks worse than the cow shit.
Why does attention control matter?
Attention is our gateway to understanding what's happening, deciding what needs to happen, and making it happen.
It's how we make sense of the world, deciding what we need to do, and getting shit done.
When we don't know how or what to pay attention to, someone or something usually decides for us. And that someone or something isn't always looking out for us or our best interests.
Sometimes we are treated to a shit sandwich and we end up feeling really shitty about ourselves or a situation. Sometimes this is appropriate. Other times it's not. When we know how to control our attention, we are more likely to see the person or situation for what they really are.
And we find ways to avoid, ignore, fix, take on, and even laugh at the shit that's dished out.
Distractions are everywhere and compete for our attention. Your senses alone are picking up literally millions of signals every second. Your brain takes care of most of them without you even knowing, leaving you a handful of stuff that comes to your conscious attention. Unfortunately, we tend to waste a lot of our time, energy and potential on distractions and useless or unhelpful shit.
Learning to control your attention when you have to deal with the shitty stuff is a great skill to have.
Like staying alive when somethings trying to catch you for lunch.
Less dramatic but also relevant is paying bills, dealing with narcissistic arseholes, doing things we don't enjoy, facing up to the music when you're in the shit, listening to your kid play in the school band (joking - I loved this), and picking up your dog's 10th shit while out on a walk. Seriously, where do they store all that shit?
Can we learn to control our attention?
You bet your arse we can.
My life used to be full of distractions that negatively affected my performance, wellbeing and mental health.
I've worked hard on learning to guide my attention and improve other mental skills. These skills have really helped me live my life in a different and better way, have less shit in my life, and cope better with the shit I do have to deal with.
Many of my clients want to learn how to control their attention and manage their distractions.
I love it when they notice positive changes from training their brain to pay more attention to the stuff that really matters, and being less consumed by the unhelpful shit in their lives.
My mind still wanders and my attention still takes me to places that are sometimes very unhelpful. I'm cool with this because I accept we all have shit in our lives to deal with and none of us have all our shit together, despite what we see all over social media. Nobody is perfect, and nobody gets away without some shit in their lives.
There are people who pretend or actually believe they deserve to be immune to any shit in their lives, often pushing their shit onto other people. Don't take their shit because that just makes you feel shittier about yourself or the situation. It’s true that the shit isn’t dispersed equally. People, places and situations have more shit going on than others. And our abilities to deal with the shit in our lives is not equal either. Some do it well, some struggle and others are completely overwhelmed.
I'm not saying learning to control your attention is easy or happens overnight. But I will do my best to help you learn ways to control your attention, discover the stuff that really matters, and look at the shit in your life a bit differently.
The answer isn't rocket science, unless you're an astronaut stuck in space. Then you need rocket science to get you home or you're up shit creek without a paddle. Here on earth the answer is brain science.