Attention plays a critical role in nearly every academic choice you make. It will determine what you think, what emotions you feel, and what behaviors you engage in. It will affect your motivation as well as your goal achievement. It will help you determine who you are, who you want to be, and how to get there. In fact, your brain is set up to help you become everything you can be. The way you pay attention will either help you or hurt you with your day-to-day goals, whether you are at school, home, with friends, even in areas like health, recreation, athletics, and creativity. Your attention plays a vital role in whether you feel focused or scattered, happy or sad, angry or content, full of energy or depressed. As such, you cannot fully be who you want to be if your attention mechanism doesn’t function properly. In my new book, Can I Have Your Attention? I discuss hundreds of attention training techniques. But if you can latch onto just one of these, you can significantly amp up your attention—and then, of course, the more the better. What makes things interesting is that in many ways, your attention is as uniquely your own as your fingerprint. So, at the heart of attention training is discovering your own special way of paying attention and learning how to make it work for you.
Good attention is controlled attention guided by good choices. Your job as the CEO of this mechanism is to pay attention to how you are paying attention in a wide variety circumstances that you view as key to your desires and success.
Focusing on the following 7 attention building activities and then synching them up will help get you started in putting your mind where it will do you the most good. List them on the first page of your notebook. Be creative if you like. Use color and a picture-bullet for each activity to help you remember.
At the beginning of each class, or better yet the night before, take a few moments and simply ask yourself:
1. What is the day’s goal for this class and what are my responsibilities (i.e. I am listening to a talk on Edgar Allen Poe and taking notes for a test)
2. How does this goal link to larger goals in my life (i.e. I can use the information in another course for a term paper I am writing and THAT will make life easier and better. I can ace my English class, qualify for higher level classes I want next year, graduate with honors, get into the college I desire, get the job I desire, etc.) On the scale of things, how important are these goals to your life—present and in the future? Often it is hard to get motivated unless we see how information is linked to larger personal concerns. So splurge on this one.
3. What are the demands of my environment (i.e. distracters that need to be blocked, large room—need to listen more closely to hear, speak only when it is my turn, my views are considered more radical by others in this class—as opposed to other classes where my ideas are in the majority, etc. )
4. What are the expectations of my teacher (that I take notes, ask questions, provide comments—only with softer more inviting language, or that today I just listen and refrain from questioning and comment, and so on).
5. What have I done in the past that helped me achieve these goals? What has interfered? Do what works.
6. How am I feeling at this very moment? Consider suppressing or modifying certain feelings if they are inconsistent with your immediate goals. For example, if you are angry over something or even too pumped up, ask: What does this feeling have to do with what I am trying to accomplish at the moment? If the answer is that it is detrimental, then let go of it or compensate for the feeling—sometimes students, athletes, business people and the like have to act differently than they are feeling to get the job done. Focus on your overall goal and how it relates to other goals. Get to know your capabilities (good and harmful) under the influence of specific emotions you feel often. Learn to work with where you are at.
For example, anger may allow you to be more analytical. So listen and read more critically on angry days. Happiness makes you a good talker and not such a good listener; so it’s okay to respond to questions, while remembering to focus more on listening. If you feel sad you may find that you are more reflective, ask better, deeper questions or that you work more slowly and are able to attend more carefully to work that you might—at other times—rush and thus jeopardize. The idea is to match the way you feel with specific tasks that will achieve the best results for your goals. This will not only turn negative energy into functional energy, but help spin you out of a funk.
7. What behaviors and feelings are worth catching from others? Scan your environment. Block behaviors and emotions conveyed by others which seem antithetical to your goals. Don’t catch them. Let yourself catch those emotions and behaviors that will fuel your goals.
Peter Solomon asked me a great question in an interview this morning (Live with Peter Solomon, WIP-AM, Philadelphia, Sunday, August 30, 2009). He asked “will paying attention make you smarter?” My answer is a general yes. Paying attention to the right things can lead to smarter decisions about yourself and as such help you become everything you want to be—within the moment as well as within a lifetime. Again, essential to attention training is being able to identify your own unique blend of paying attention—what guides your attention specifically and how you can get into your own head and mess with the machinery, so to speak, so it is more aligned with your goals—YOUR goals not someone else’s. This will make you feel strong, in control, happier, more content, motivated, robust, and positive.
Remember that attention is a skill and will develop incrementally like any other skill you practice. So train and keep training. Just be careful what you train because it will become virtually automatic and trigger at high speeds. Enjoy.
NOTE: The skills discussed in this blog can be modified for younger students as well.
My newest book is
Can I Have Your Attention?: How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration
and you can check it out for a more in-depth discussion of attention building techniques for any age.
(Image by foundphotoslj)