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Easy Attention Boosting Tips For 2011

Attention-Boosting Dos & Don'ts for the New Year.

Attention-our ability to be present and mindful to the moment at hand, as well as our ability to exercise choice within each moment-plays a significant role in every area of our life. The following is a summary of a few ways that can help optimize your attention during the coming year.

Attention-our ability to be present and mindful to the moment at hand, as well as our ability to exercise choice within each moment-plays a significant role in every area of our life. The following is a summary of a few ways that can help optimize your attention during the coming year.

Attention Boosting Dos

  1. Pay attention to how you are paying attention. By this I mean try to identify some of what is going through your mind (and body) when you are attending to things-anything. If you choose to look at (or reflect on) something that is more important to you, what is guiding your attention may be easier to spot. For example, is my attention being steered to certain thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and so on because I am excited, or in a hurry or "down" or because this is the way I did things last time? Or because this is what I do habitually in such situations? Or because I am worried or anxious? Then ask yourself: Should any of these items be guiding me in what I am now doing-e.g. your current goal? Empty your mind of those elements that are not facilitating your goal.
  2. Get rid of habits that aren't working and replace them with new ones that do. Habits trigger very quickly in your mind and are responsible for much of what you think, feel, do, and achieve throughout the day. They are great when they are working for you. But they are not so hot when they are dysfunctional to your goals. Try to ID habits that are in play when you are in a specific scenario, especially a scenario that is important to you. It is hard to do this on-the-fly. You can, however, try visualizing the scenario in advance by paying attention to what you have done in similar situations, in the past, or by visualizing the expected scenario and seeing what habits bubble up naturally into your consciousness. Your job is to: See what habits are working within the scene and which are not. Short circuit habits that don't work and replace them with actions that do work. You can use visualization to help you. I will discuss how to do this more in # 7 below.
  3. Keep your emotions in check. Ask: What emotion(s) are steering my attention at this moment? Then ask: Does the way I feel facilitate my goal? Or does it interfere? Ask: What has happened in the past when I have felt this way? Try to empty your mind of destructive emotions so that you can go at your goal clean, energized, and strong. If you cannot empty your mind of these, try to see how what you're feeling can be used effectively. For example, sometimes when people are sad they become better listeners or do things more slowly-which can be good for certain goals where those skills are a match. Your job is to try to synchronize emotions with certain tasks or to over-ride destructive feelings when a match is difficult. In the business world, for example, men and women learn that they may be feeling one way, but for the good of a contract or presentation, they may often have to act and present themselves in another way.
  4. Energize naturally. You need a certain amount of psychic energy to reach a state of optimal attention. We all have our little natural energy chargers. Overused, stimulants like caffeine and some energy drinks aren't the greatest because you run the risk of being left more exhausted when their effects wear off. Other natural energizers work better-things like exercise, music, visuals and visualizations of favorite places-energizing (even emotional) scenes-and fragrances. Try combining some of these into "one activity." This will amplify the overall stimulating influence of these and give you the greatest energy boost, without the side effects. Want even more of a boost, calm yourself down first (not for too long, say 5 minutes), then activate your natural energy booster(s). This will ramp up the energizing effects even more.
  5. Spend some quiet time each day. Know yourself. Try to see your goals clearly and honestly. Meditate, even for just 10 or 20 minutes. Synchronizing your own goals with who you are will help you pay more attention to what really matters-to you-and coordinate what happens to you daily, internally and externally, in a meaningful, satisfying, more exhilarating way.
  6. Rest and eat nutritiously. You need to replenish your mind and body daily-and this takes a lot of energy.
  7. Use visualization and reflection. There are 2 keys to making repetition work for you. (1) The first involves what you are seeing in your mind. Try to see what actual behaviors are activating that match your goals and which do not. Keep those that work and create new ones to replace those that don't. (2) Then visualize the scenario often-over and over. You are in a sense creating a new "habit," so this takes some time and repetition. Try using music you enjoy right before you do your visualization. Remember repetition will help ingrain the memory and then trigger the behavior when you need or want it in real life.

Attention Don'ts

  1. Don't be on automatic pilot all day. Try to be mindful of goals as they arise in various situations. There is an old Zen saying: Keep one eye on the destination and the other eye on the way.
  2. Don't use too much caffeine or alcohol.
  3. Don't assume your negative emotions have no use-see my blog, Bad Moods Can Be Good for You for some ideas on how to use the energies of these emotions.
  4. Don't assume feeling "pumped up" is always best for decision making.
  5. Don't think that if you see it in your mind once it will necessarily happen.
  6. Don't have too tight a focus. Keep your mind flexible-ready to change with change.
  7. Don't assume all distraction is bad; you may miss something important.

Remember good attention is controlled attention guided by good choices. Repetition is the hallmark of any good training program. So start now. Train your brain like you would the rest of your body. This will turn your attention skills into good habits, free up brain space, dissolve worries, and give you more positive energy to stay focused on what's important to you. So train, train, train.

Image: Mike Dakinewavamon Kline.bmp

For a scientific adventure into the world of human attention see my newest book, Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration.

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