Pay Attention

Have you ever sat at your desk and asked, “How did I get here?”

I’m not asking an existential question, just how you managed to get to work at all.

By that time, you’ve woken up, showered, brushed your teeth, combed your hair, got dressed, had breakfast, and drove all the way to work. You parked your car, went through the front doors, got to your desk and turned on your computer to start your day. That all happened in 90 minutes or so, about 10% of your waking day, and very likely you don’t remember it. You aren’t alone. You simply didn’t pay attention. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. You don’t end up spending too much extra energy on what is routine.

But what happens when it spills into your waking life?

So, when you are having dinner with your family, and your kids are telling you about something important in their day, but you get so preoccupied with what happened at work hours before, that you don’t pay attention. Or worse, you have a conversation with your spouse (I know I’m guilty of this – ask my wife) and don’t recall a word of it. You’re not on autopilot at this point, you are utterly distracted. You need to bring yourself back into the moment, if only for a little while.

And paying attention doesn’t mean you actually change anything. You aren’t brainstorming or problem solving, although that can be a result of paying attention, it cannot be part of paying attention, if that makes any sense. Paying attention is a kind of mindfulness. Be in the moment as completely as you can, if only for a little while. Your child’s smile, the light in their eyes as they talk about their day, the sound of their excited voice as their story reaches a climax, how you can see bits and pieces of all the people in your life you have every loved in their face. Absorb it all and you may find yourself feeling absurdly happy. Isn’t that worth a few measly minutes of you day to experience that? Why wouldn’t you try to do that as often as you can?

Here are some examples of things I try to do every day to pay a little more attention.

  • Have lunch. Don’t read and eat, or use your phone, or sit with anyone. Just eat your lunch and enjoy the food you prepared (note, this is being edited while I eat my lunch, so today is not that day)
  • Stand in line. Take deep breaths and follow the queue. Don’t get impatient. Don’t bounce impatiently on the balls of your feet. Don’t eavesdrop or people watch. Just take a deep breath and focus on the sensation of your feet in your shoes, the muscles of your calves. Look for tension in your body and just let it go and wait your turn.
  • Show up early to a meeting. Then sit and breathe for a few minutes. Put your hands flat on the table and enjoy the touch of it. Put your forearms on the side of the chair and see how the armrests feel.
  • Don’t jump when the phone rings. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, then answer the phone and the first chance you get, ask the person on the other end how their day is going and mean it. See what happens.
  • Exercise. No less than five days a week, no more than six. At least, for me. And of those days, at least one of them I work out to the point of absolute exhaustion. During a normal routine, I think only about the next breath and the next move. When I workout to exhaustion, I don’t think about anything except how much more I can take. After that, my head is remarkably clear. Plus, that night I sleep like a baby. If it’s a weekend? I nap like a champ.

You won’t pull it off every day. And these might not work for you. Get in the habit of paying attention. It’s a kind of daily meditation – a mindfulness – that helps to get rid of stress and helps me be a happier person.

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