Where Is Your Attention?

One day last week my son and I were up before dawn, so we went with my husband to take sunrise pictures on the beach. When we got to the beach parking lot, my husband grabbed his equipment and went ahead so he wouldn’t miss the sunrise and my son and I took our time getting out of the car. When we got to the beach, I could see my husband far down the beach, facing east, to our left.

My son and I started walking down the beach toward my husband, and I noticed a dark lump on the beach. I soon realized it was a seal, snoozing on the beach. As we got closer, the seal woke up, looked around at us, and started galumphing toward the ocean. Once he got past the waves, he popped his head up and I swear he looked back at us. My son and I were so excited to see such an spectacular creature up close like that. It was a great way to start the day!

When we caught up to my husband, I asked him if he’d seen the seal. He hadn’t noticed it—he walked right by. He had a hard time believing he just didn’t see the seal.

The whole thing got me thinking about attention and how our brains work. How could my husband have missed that seal? He was on a deserted beach, with nothing but empty sand for miles, and one dark lump right in the middle of it.

The answer is basically that our brains see what we expect to see. Our attention is very selective. My husband was so intent on the sunrise he walked right by a creature he would have loved to see up close, never mind photograph.

If you don’t believe your attention is selective, check out this short ( 1 min, 21 seconds) video from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris by clicking here.

Given that our attention is selective, we can either consciously choose what we give our attention to or just pay attention to whatever we’ve been conditioned to pay attention to.

I’d rather choose.

This year I’ve been focusing on all the things I can do with my writing, not all the things I can’t. I used to always ask myself the question, “Why can’t I get any writing done?” When I did, my brain would go to work finding all the answers to that question:

  • Because I’m too lazy.
  • Because I don’t have time.
  • Because I have nothing to say. (I could go on and on…but I won’t.)

Now I ask myself questions like:

  • What would make it easy for me to get some writing done today?
  • How many words can I crank out in this 15-minute period?
  • What’s the most important writing project I can work on today?

I also notice my progress and celebrate it, rather than berate myself for any lack of progress. I may get the same amount of work done, but I feel a lot better about it now than when I used to see only the negative.

Where are you focusing your attention on in your writing life?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother and stepmother. Don’t forgot to consider attending my One-Day Writing Retreat on September 20th, 2014, in Nashua, NH. Please click here for more information and to register. I’d love to see you there!

 

31 thoughts on “Where Is Your Attention?

  1. I think this applies to so many other areas of life too – especially work. I’ll try your first question when I have low motivation – like now!! Because clearly I shouldn’t be reading blogs in work time!!

    • Hi weebluebirdie,
      I like to ask myself “Powerful Questions,” that set me up to succeed. Where is my attention focused helps me develop my awareness about what I’m doing, in all areas of my life.

      Thanks for reading–now get back to writing! 🙂

      Warmly,
      Diane

  2. This is fantastic advice! I am a very busy stay-at-home mom to a toddler. I am so often frustrated by my lack of writing time. I have, however, become more satisfied with “just writing my blog” for the time being. As a result, I put more into it and, lo and behold, it has really started to pick up!

    • Hi Jean,
      So glad you found the post helpful. Many times when I’m getting frustrated at not getting “enough” done when I’m home, I notice what I’m doing and refocus my attention on my son, so we can have a good time together, and also try to notice tiny pockets of time when I could get a little writing done. Congratulations on focusing on your blog!

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  3. My attention has been focused on trying not to buckle under the weight of increasing stress and worsening health issues. It makes writing difficult at times, sometimes impossible, but I’d rather keep my sanity than sacrifice it — at least for the moment.

    • Hi totiltwithwindmills,
      I used to tell my patients, “Whatever we focus our attention on gets better–we just can’t focus on everything.” Sounds like you are focusing on what you need to focus on right now.

      Best wishes!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  4. I know this is taken out of context, Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance; However I think it may apply as to what we pay attention to. “This sculpture in the memory is not without pre established harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be safely imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he is said or done otherwise shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.”
    I am not implying that your husband and son are guilty of this passage but their focus was on the sunrise thereby missing the majestic mosaic that God wanted them to see.
    Terrance Tracy

    • I know this is taken out of context, Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance; However I think it may apply as to what we pay attention to. “This sculpture in the memory is not without pre established harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be safely imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he is said or done otherwise shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.”
      I am not implying that your husband is guilty of this passage bu his focus was on the sunrise thereby missing the majestic mosaic that God wanted him to see.
      Terrance Tracy

      • I know this is taken out of context, Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance; However I think it may apply as to what we pay attention to. “This sculpture in the memory is not without pre established harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be safely imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he is said or done otherwise shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.”
        I am not implying that your husband is guilty of this passage but his focus was on the sunrise thereby missing the majestic mosaic that God wanted him to see.
        Terrance Tracy

    • Hi Terrance,
      I don’t think my husband would have used those words, but I think he would agree with you–he would have loved to have seen the seal on the beach and it was a good lesson for all of us.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  5. Reblogged this on C.K.Rich and commented:
    This is my first attempt to reblog. I choose this post because I am famous for not being observant when I have a project. That project now is work and writing is waiting in the wings. This post was just what I needed this morning. Oh, watch the video:)

  6. Thank you for this post. I am reminded that my focus has been on what isn’t in my surrounding instead of being grateful for what is. May not have to do with my writing but quite an insightful post that served me well nonetheless, thank you! 🙂 NadineMarie

    • Hi NadineMarie,
      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you found the post helpful. Having that experience with the seal has been helpful for me, too, and not just with my writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  7. This is good stuff. I made a promise to myself to blog every Tuesday. The last few weeks I have made every excuse not too. (Even though my heart desires to write) I will be asking myself these questions.

    • Hi UBthelight,
      Yes, there are always reasons not to write. We have to decide what to focus on and it’s always easier to focus on things for other people (for me, anyway) so I have to make a conscious decision to take the time to write. I hope you do, too. What’s the name of your blog?

      Warmly,
      Diane

  8. I had a teacher tell me once that a writers biggest problem is that they don’t write. You have hit it right on the head and offered some great advice thanks for the inspiration.

    • Hi jsleflore,
      I agree! Sitting down to write is the hardest part! I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      Happy writing!

      Warmly,
      Diane

  9. Reblogged this on Ears to Hear and commented:
    I know this is taken out of context, Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance; However I think it may apply as to what we pay attention to. “This sculpture in the memory is not without pre established harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be safely imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he is said or done otherwise shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.”
    I am not implying that your husband is guilty of this passage but his focus was on the sunrise thereby missing the majestic mosaic that God wanted him to see.
    Terrance Tracy

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