One Strong Belief: Attention Matters

Today’s Prompt – The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?

What do I believe strongly?

This prompt had me baffled for most of the day. I wrote seven hundred words about my vague political leanings before I happened across a stray thought. A single belief that truly shapes my behavior and my interaction with the world.

Attention matters.

That’s it. If you let it sink in, it can be revolutionary.

Idiomatically, we “pay” attention. Just like we “pay” money and “spend” time. Attention exists in finite quantities. Like time and money, attention should be budgeted, managed and never squandered.

The single most valuable thing you can give a child, a pet or a lover is your undivided attention. Usually, that is the one of the only things any of those beings want from you anyway. (They sometimes want food. Which is often confused with attention and sometimes mistakenly used to replace it, which results in overfed children, pets and lovers, but that’s another post.)

Corollary: It takes energy to pay attention to anything, even passively.

In essence, when you pet your cat, you are giving her just a little bit of your personal energy, a little bit of yourself. Sure, you get something back – her attention, a lower heart rate, the pleasure of a soft touch and contact on your hand. To me, this is attention well spent. It has a return on an investment.

There are sneaky ways that we waste money when we aren’t aware of a budget – a $4 cup of coffee every day at Starbucks, late fees, interest rates. Likewise, there are sneaky ways we waste our attention. A few examples? Obvious ones are those same things you “waste time” doing like TV and Facebook. Others are more insidious, like worry or jealousy.

Emotions expire. They are useful for very short periods of time. Many of them signal a need to change something about our lives or situations.

Fear means we should be vigilant. Are we really in danger? If not, do we really need to hang on to that fear? If we are in potential danger, shouldn’t we get the heck out of there so we aren’t afraid anymore? Worry is essentially fear that has turned sour. It’s curdled and gone bad.

Similarly, I think jealousy is anger gone green with mold. Time to toss it.

Spending attention on stuff like worry or jealousy is a waste of that energy that we could be spending on something else that’s more constructive in our own lives. Like figuring out how to prevent potentially dangerous situations for ourselves or our children, or figuring out how to get what we need and want in our own lives.

Corollary: Strive to give attention only to the things you love.

I never spend my attention on the news, if I can help it. Why? Because it’s mostly miserable stuff that I don’t want to give my energy. I pay it my energy, and it only returns negative stuff that I don’t want. It’s a bad investment – a bottomless pit of attention debt.

I pay attention to Ethan, to Lingo, to Brett. To friends and family. I pay attention to my inner world, my creativity, my dreams. I pay attention to what I eat and how I nourish my body. I pay attention to beauty and wonder. These are all good investments, in my opinion. They pay back in attention from loved ones, touch, play, joy and fun.

Conclusion: There’s more to it, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

People wonder about me sometimes. I’m frequently asked how I have time to chase big dreams, write novels, cook dinner from scratch, do the laundry and race duathlons all at once. This one belief – which casts ripples out through every single thing I do every single day – is the reason why.

People wonder at my resilience and my optimism, my perseverance and unwillingness to give up on any of my goals. The careful budgeting of my attention, combined with mule-headed stubbornness, is the reason why.


12 thoughts on “One Strong Belief: Attention Matters

  1. Oh I so totally agree. People tell me they don't have time to do the things I do: run a business, scrapbook, make bread, can and freeze fruits and veggies, etc. I have just as much free time as everyone else I know, I just choose to spend my time doing things I want to do. One secret is that I don't watch much TV anymore. I have one show that we Tivo and watch together, and that's it. That gives me so much time!

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