By Shannon Anderson, author of Y Is for Yet: A Growth Mindset Alphabet
Did you know that 47 percent of the time, the average American adult is not paying attention to what they’re doing? That’s a pretty staggering statistic. This is according to Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, authors of “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.”
What does it mean to not pay attention? It could mean not truly listening to a person who is speaking. Or it might mean reading a few pages, or maybe even a chapter, in a book and having no idea what you just read. Or perhaps you left your house to drive to the store, but ended up at your workplace parking lot instead.
So what causes people not to pay attention? And what can help them learn to pay better attention?
Sometimes people don’t pay attention because they’re distracted, or too busy, or just going through the motions without focusing. Many times, they don’t pay attention because they are thinking about something that has happened or about a future event or task.
Not paying attention can lead to a lack of focus on what needs to be done, which can cause people to not do or be their best. It can also cause issues in relationships. If you’ve ever shared something with someone who is not paying attention, you know that it can feel as if they don’t care about what you have to say.
If you’re an educator, you know that when students don’t pay attention, they struggle to understand what to do and how to do it. If they seem to be off in another world, they aren’t going to benefit from the classroom lessons and experiences. This can cause them to get behind or frustrated.
One way to train your brain to pay better attention is to practice mindfulness. Thankfully, in recent years, there has been an explosion of research on mindfulness—an important practice that can help you focus on the present. You’ve probably heard a lot about mindfulness, but you might be wondering exactly what it is and why it’s so important.
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state that is achieved when you focus your awareness on the present moment, while accepting your feelings, thoughts, and senses. It can decrease stress, increase attention, and help you be more compassionate toward yourself and others. If you start to worry about your future or are stressing about things that have already happened, you can use mindfulness to increase your awareness of the present.
Bringing awareness to the present looks different for each person. Some people might meditate, some might do yoga, and some might focus on their senses as they experience something they are eating, watching, or touching. Bringing your awareness to the present is a matter of concentrating on only a particular moment, thought, movement, or object without blaming yourself or others for how you may feel at the time.
Try to pull yourself into your present awareness. You can allow thoughts and feelings to come up, but don’t place any judgment on them. Just notice them. You can have curiosity about your feelings, but respond to yourself with kindness about what you feel.
Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as pausing to pet your cat and thinking about how the soft fur feels on your fingers for a few minutes. It could be entering a state of flow while doing something you love, such as painting or woodworking, and focusing completely on that. For those who love to organize, reorganizing a closet or junk drawer or rearranging a room, while focusing only on that task, can be a good mindfulness exercise. Here are some other ways to practice mindfulness.
Do a body scan. Lie on the floor with your eyes closed. Think about each part of your body from the top of your head all the way to your toes and appreciate it.
Use mindful breathing. It can be guided by a person or an app, or you can do it on your own. Your sole focus should be your breath and how your body feels as you inhale and exhale.
Use your five senses to experience something. How does this thing look, feel, smell, sound, and taste? Appreciate the object and all that you experience.
Do something with your nondominant hand, like brushing your teeth or writing. This can cause you to focus more fully on what you are doing rather than letting your mind wander.
Go out in nature and observe everything around you. What do you hear? What do you notice about the sky? What textures can you feel? If it is fall, watch for leaves dropping to the ground. If it’s summer, go to a beach and enjoy the sight and sound of the water lapping up on the shore.
Write in a gratitude journal. Focus just on writing down all the things you’re thankful for.
Some people make mindfulness a part of their daily routine. Others turn to it when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. You can practice mindfulness for five minutes or an hour. It really is up to you. However often you choose to practice mindfulness, it is a wonderful way to improve your emotional state and allow your mind to take a break from distractions. It also trains your brain to maintain focus. With practice, you can learn to pay more attention when you need to be alert and devoted to what you are doing.
Think of the time you spend being mindful as a gift to yourself. That little bit of time can help you focus more throughout the rest of your day and help you be kinder to yourself and others. As it turns out, paying attention can really pay off.
Shannon Anderson has taught for 25 years, from first grade through college level. Her career highlight was being named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired the Today Show. Shannon is also the author of many children’s books and a national speaker. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work helping kids with social and emotional issues through her writing and speaking. To find out more, you can visit: shannoisteaching.com.
Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:
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