ATTENTION - our ability and willingness to focus on just one thing at any one given moment in time.
In today’s world, we often work longer hours and pack more into every day. As a result, we end up juggling different activities at the same time, all in order to get those 'To-Do' Lists done! Furthermore, the boundaries between work and home life are blurred for many people. This is especially the case for those who can work from anywhere, at any time due to the nature of the digital age in which we live.
Now obviously there are times when multitasking is helpful and necessary. Sometimes we need to get things done, and the most productive way is doing more than one thing at a time. However, when a person is multi-task they're actually switching simultaneously between tasks, and research indicate that this reduces productivity by up to 40%.
This habit can creep automatically into almost everything we do. Often if we’re not doing more than one thing at a time, we may think that we're not working hard enough. However, there's a huge difference between quantity and quality of work. There are lots of important tasks that require a high level of sustained attention and cognitive clarity, for example, solving a complex technical problem.
Switching between tasks tends to divide our attention. We often lose the thread and are far more likely to make mistakes. This can have a real negative impact on productivity and can also increase our stress levels. This can often feel like a perpetual cycle where we end up feeling unfulfilled and frustrated as we rarely find the quality time and space to complete work that we're actually proud of.
Here are some typical examples of doing more than one thing at a time:
- You arrive somewhere and don’t remember any details from the journey - You’ve finished your meal, but you kind of missed the experience (didn’t really notice eating or tasting the food). - You find yourself at the top of your stairs trying to remember what it was that you were going to do
Do any of these sound familiar?
THE CORE COMPONENTS OF MINDFULNESS
The various messages, calls, and alerts that we receive throughout the day are just the most noticeable interruptions to our attention. Mindfulness is about learning to become more aware of how our mind wanders and breaks our attention from what we were doing at any particular moment.
Becoming more mindfully aware is about developing our ability and willingness to focus on just one thing at any one given moment in time. This means if you're walking, rather than allowing your mind to drift off in thought, simply just walk and open your senses to what's going on around you in the outside world. Or say you're having a conversation; rather than rehearsing what you're going to say next, focus your attention on actually listening to what the other person is saying with curiosity and kindness. Becoming more mindfully aware is about developing gratitude and appreciation of the present moment.
If you experiment with this - concentrating on just one thing at a time - you’ll soon notice that the old habit of multi-tasking will rear its ugly head and try to take over. It's surprisingly challenging and requires awareness, focus and practice.
INTENTION - Change Your Intention to Focus Your Attention
With jam-packed schedules and to-do lists that carry most of us from hour to hour, it’s unusual that we stop to reflect on our motivations. However, if we develop the habit of taking the briefest of moments to set clear, positive intentions for what we’re doing, the reward is great. We can make a huge shift in how any task, conversation, or meeting feels solely by considering where we want to focus our attention.
The reason for this is because our perception of the world is much more subjective than we often realise. The brain has limited processing power, and if we attempted to scrutinise every tiny object, sound, or sensation, we would freeze like an overloaded computer. So we subconsciously prioritise information that seems most relevant, i.e. with whatever is at the front of our minds and seems most important to us. This results in us focusing on whatever resonates with our mood, our worries, our expectations, and we tend to filter out the rest.
This may mean that we fail to perceive the good things a person does if we have already jumped to a conclusion or formed a belief that they are annoying/bad. And if we are in a bad mood when starting a task, we can easily end up paying more attention to problems than solutions. We don't often realise it because we don’t know what we don’t notice. If we rush through our days without allowing time and space for reflection, it's almost like our mental filters are on an automatic setting.
THE CORE COMPONENTS OF MINDFULNESS
However, it is possible to be more deliberate in choosing where we focus our attention. If we make a conscious decision about what’s really important to us on this day, in this conversation, during a task we can take a more proactive approach in determining what we notice and remember. We can choose to take off our 'blinkers' and see more of the reality that we want to see. In essence, we can change our experience.
Here are four steps that if you implement in the context of your day to day life will help you to become more mindfully aware of your intentions and start taking a more proactive approach towards achieving more of the things you want in life.
1) BECOMING MORE SELF-AWARE - Check in with yourself. Ask yourself, what is most important to you right now? What are your expectations - in relation to the situation or other people? What worries or needs do you have? How are you feeling (anxious, stressed, etc.)?
2) RECOGNISING YOUR MENTAL FILTERS - Learn to recognise your mental filters. This is something we're going to be covering in depth later on in the course. Once you can identify the most common destructive thought patterns that frequently occupy your mind, you can start to choose differently.
3) CONSIDER YOUR INTENTIONS - Identify what matters most to you. For example, perhaps it's more important to you to improve the connection you have with a friend/colleague rather than making sure the friend/colleague knows they've done something wrong. Now obviously this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring up challenging subjects, but the conversation is likely to go very differently if you set a more positive intention.
4) DIRECT YOUR ATTENTION - As you become more aware of your own destructive thought patterns and give more consideration to your intentions, you can start to direct your attention towards more of what you actually want. What is it that you now want to pay more attention to in other people, in yourself, or in the task at hand?
THE CORE COMPONENTS OF MINDFULNESS
ATTITUDE - Towards other people's intentions and motives.
As we begin to understand that no one has bad intentions - people don't set out each day to upset or harm others - we appreciate that in the same way that we often say and do things that we don't mean, so do other people. Becoming more mindfully aware is about recognising and accepting that as imperfect people we're never going to act and behave perfectly. This allows us to extend more unconditional acceptance towards others, which in turn makes us the kind of people that others want to be around.
People will always make the best choice they can, according to the information they have available to them at the time. Understanding this allows us to withhold judgment when we don't understand the actions that a person takes. All our actions have at least one goal to accomplish something that we value and that will benefit us. An individual is not their behaviour, and when a person becomes aware that there's a better choice of behaviour that will also achieve their positive intention, they'll take it.
If we want to protect the trust in the relationships we have with others; then we must not jump to conclusions about what we think their intentions are. We must instead take time to understand what their intentions actually are.