Attention! (or, where is your flashlight pointed?)

Attention is valuable commodity. If you had any doubt, you need only watch your children fight for it.  The reason attention is so valuable is that it shines a spotlight on the things we hold dear. In other words, in spite of what we SAY is important to us, the objects of our attention reveal our true priorities.

The thing is, attention is in limited supply – it is a finite resource. As such, we must “spend” it wisely!

Why? Because what we focus on is what we become! Our thoughts create our reality. In fact, this is a common theme among motivational and inspirational leaders:

“Where focus goes, energy flows” – Tony Robbins

Here is a wonderful analogy: “Aiming our attention works similarly to aiming a flashlight. Whatever we aim our flashlight at is illuminated, the area is highlighted, bathed in light. We can see more clearly. The energy goes where you aim it. WHATEVER we put our attention on, energy flows to it” (Rex Sikes’ Daily Inspiration and Gratitude blog).

So, we can CHOOSE to focus on the good or we can CHOOSE to focus on the not-so-good. Improving our lives is as easy as pointing our flashlight on things that bring us joy and satisfaction.

The good news is that where we place our attention is completely within our control. As Esther Hicks (via Abraham) affirms, “The basis of your life is freedom; you can choose to direct your thought anywhere!” With control, however, comes accountability. “Everyone is responsible for the thoughts they think and the things that they choose as their objects of attention.”

In her new book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, author and behavioral scientist Winifred Gallagher (introduced in one of my earlier blogs) explains that “the wise investment of your attention is the single most important thing you can do to improve your well-being.”

Furthermore (and perhaps even more significantly), Gallagher’s research demonstrates that “people who are in a positive emotional state see much more—their peripheral vision is larger. They literally see what we call ‘the big picture’ – not only visually, but also psychologically. They are in a better position to consider options; they have more choices; they can make better decisions.”

The best part, she says, is that we have much more control over our focus than we think. Increasing your satisfaction simply means focusing more on what really interests you and less on what doesn’t.

One of the best ways to do this is to alter the stories we tell – those we tell ourselves and those we tell others. My friend, author Angela Noel, wrote about this very thing (in much more detail) on her blog, You Are Awesome. How do we interpret the events in our lives? When you tell your story, are you the victor or the victim? Is your glass half full or half empty?

If you find yourself frequently focused on roadblocks, barriers, and struggles, you may have fallen prey to downward spiral talk. The Zanders, in their book The Art of Possibility, describe downward spiral talk as a resigned way of speaking; fear-based language that eliminates possibility. For example:

Teenagers these days are a lost cause!

Why do these things always happen to me?

You just can’t get good help anymore!

Sound familiar? The problem is, when we engage in downward spiral talk, we are focused solely on the obstacles. We shine our flashlight on the negative! The conversation devolves into hopelessness, because we aren’t open to or even aware of other possibilities. What’s worse is that we tend to drag others down into that spiral along with us!

Fortunately, the way we frame our circumstances is mostly just a bad habit. And, habits can be changed! Learning to think in terms of possibilities – perhaps even becoming an optimist (gasp!) – is completely within reach. Because we know that our thoughts create our reality, we can choose to search for the nuggets of sweetness, however tiny, in each situation. If we find ourselves lost in the dark, we can turn on our flashlight and train its beam on the path that leads to freedom, happiness, and even appreciation for what is.

Forming new habits takes time, but the rewards are great! As we ring in the New Year, let’s make a plan (in the words of Winifred Gallagher) to invest in our own well-being!