Learning to pay attention.


Attention. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Being stingy with attention is a natural human characteristic.

The brain is made up of two thinking systems, a rapid system we sometimes call intuition. This system makes decisions based on past experiences, hunches, and deep gut feelings. When you rely heavily on this system, it is as if you are on autopilot. You’re able to do a great many things without any effort at being mindful. Some people describe this as a “mindless” activity.

The other system is slow and laborious. It gathers information, analyzes things, and decides based on facts and stored blueprints on how to make decisions.

Deep analytical thinking uses up a lot of brain capacity, which is why the brain avoids it and makes use of the automatic decision-making system as much as possible. Modern life presents us with many of these conflicts. Video games and brief videos cater to our instinctive short attention span brains. Employment and advanced learning require us to override the fast thinking process, slow down, and restrict our thinking to one task.

An increase in technical material has made advanced education more and more valuable. On the one hand, slow technical thinking is valued with a premium. But on the other hand, your day-to-day life is probably organized around activities that require almost no thought. This heavy reliance on accomplishing tasks without thinking has made many people believe that they lack the ability for prolonged thinking. Hence the incredible expansion of the diagnosis of ADHD.

Your ability to pay attention can be improved.

Some people’s ability to pay attention is so impaired that it requires medication for them to be able to meet their job requirements. But the overreliance on a pill to improve attention has obscured the fact that paying better attention is also a skill you can learn. Young children learn to pay better attention when parents reinforce their attention skills.

Your brain decides what to pay attention to.

In deciding what to pay attention to, your brain will use a series of priorities. Anytime your threat circuits are activated, paying attention to that danger is likely to take precedent over all else. Your current physical states or drives will also elevate certain items in the environment to a priority status. When you’re hungry, the brain notices food, restaurants, or things that remind you of eating everywhere you go. Loneliness primed you to notice other people.

The same phenomenon, sometimes called salience, is at work when people who ride a motorcycle notice motorcycles everywhere they go. Dog lovers are likely to notice dogs everywhere. Even subconsciously, our brains are biased toward seeing what we want to see and ignoring the rest.

The brain also must decide how much attention to pay to that item.

Some things only require a minimum of attention. Other situations require prolonged and intense concentration. Learning to shift your attention and to focus it are skills that can be learned.

You need to recognize when you’re struggling to pay attention.

A prime reason why people struggle with paying attention is that they are distracted. If you try to divide your attention between two items, one of them will get neglected. The first step in improving your ability to pay attention is to recognize when your attention has drifted off an important task, like driving, and onto a task that should be a lower priority, like playing a videogame on your cell phone or texting. In this situation, the easiest way to improve your attention is to put that cell phone somewhere where you can’t see it.

Start paying attention to your attention focusing process.

Don’t get caught up using your poor attention focusing as an excuse for not strengthening your attention skills. Whatever you find your attention drifting, mentally step back, and look at what’s going on in your attention focusing process. Is there something more salient in the environment? Are you trying to pay attention to something you would prefer not to be focused on? Becoming aware of how you utilize your ability to pay attention can improve your attention focusing skills.

Practice redirecting your attention.

As you become more and more aware of what you’re paying attention to and why, and how you determine your priorities for attention, you need to practice redirecting that attention. The more rapidly you’re able to shift that attention, and the more often you do it, the better you will become at keeping your attention focused on one object or task.

Learning to focus your attention better is a skill that will provide you lots of benefits.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.