Why pay attention? In my last blog post I talked about paying attention while walking outdoors as a way to become more aware of our surroundings. But paying attention can do much more. The people at the ToDo Institute focus much of their effort on helping clients use their attention as a way to reframe the stories they tell themselves about their lives.
Where do we normally focus our attention? We concentrate on “my feelings, my thoughts, my comfort, my convenience, my aches and pains, my problems.”* But what if these are examples of misdirected attention? As we zero in on ourselves, maybe we’re thinking about a recent unpleasant incident that’s still bothering us. Or we’re anticipating an upcoming event. Or a potentially difficult encounter ahead. What does this self-focused attention get us? Anger? Disappointment? Anxiety?
Popular wisdom tells us that if we focus on a negative experience and talk it through with a professional — what happened, how we felt when it occurred, how we feel now — eventually we will get over it. But not everyone agrees with this solution to personal problems. What if, instead of healing, this practice keeps us from ever letting go of the past? Some say that “Psychological suffering is generally associated with a heightened degree of self-focused attention.”** In other words, attending to ourselves can make our problems worse.
So what happens if we focus on something other than our lives? First, we start to notice the environment outside ourselves. We become less aware of our aches and pains. We discover a world larger than “me.” As we pay attention to the world outside us, we might change our habit of believing we are the center of the universe all the time, and only believe it most of the time. Our powers of observation expand. Finally, getting into the habit of paying attention has the potential to help us realize that we live at the expense of other beings, and we might even come to feel gratitude for all we receive from the outside.
*from http://www.todoinstitute.org; **same site but quoting psychologist Rick Ingram.