Learning to Pay Attention

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

Attention sign

Attention sign.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Paying attention is important.

Sometimes staying focused is vital. We were all told repeatedly to pay attention. Some people have been told they have an attention deficit.

Were you ever taught how to pay better attention?

Better attention is a skill you can learn. If you have ADHD there are skills you can develop that may not cure your condition but they can go a long way to getting your attention defects under control.

Try these ideas to increase your ability to pay attention.

1. What is the goal of paying attention to this information? Why might it be useful or fun to know this?

It is hard to pay attention if you can’t see a use or benefit to knowing this information. Learning and attention are emotional. If you like the topic you can learn it. Don’t have any interest in the subject? Then you will need a really good reason for your brain to bother to pay attention.

2. What do you need to focus on right now?

Every minute of every day there is all manner of things that are vying for your attention. At any given moment you need to make the decision. “What do I need to focus on right now?” If your mind wanders, do not beat yourself up. Just gently pull that mind back to the thing it needs to focus on right now.

Practice focusing your attention and it will improve.

3. Prioritize – make a list.

Writing out a list and then checking things off as you do them can help keep you organized and your mind working on one thing at a time. Get overwhelmed trying to focus on a lot of things and you will hop from channel to channel without getting the gist of anything.

4. Clear the mind of things you do not need to remember right now – mind dumps.

If you are trying to hold onto an idea or thought that you will need later, you use up some of the mental capacity you will need to be able to pay attention right now.

Have things you need to do after work? Write out a list and put it in your purse or pocket. Now you have only one thing to remember, the list, not all those things you need to do later. The fewer things in short-term mental storage the more capacity to pay attention to new things in the right now.

5. Do the big things first.

If you start with the small things you can spend all day jumping from thing to thing and at the end of the day you will still have those big things to do.

Start with the big thing first and when you reach breakpoints you can easily do those small things.

6. Break big projects into smaller parts.

If you try to build the whole house all at once you can leave out things. Break the project up into small components. Focus on one part at a time. A written list helps to make sure you did not leave anything out. If as you work on this big project you think of more steps, add them to the list. Do not keep stopping one thing to work on another. Jumping from one part to another is a sure way to undermine your ability to pay attention to any part of the project.

7. Single-task.

Multi-tasking is a myth. It may work when you need to hurry through things and none of them need any real attention or accuracy but the more you try to multitask the worse your attention to any one part becomes.

8. Cut out the distractions.

You know the things that distract you. Try to find ways to eliminate or reduce these distractions. When I am writing the sound of voices distract me. I keep wondering what is being said. I wear headphones and have some nondescript instrumental music playing. This works for me to reduce the distractions. The headphones work by the way even if there is no music playing.

Find what works for you to reduce distractions. Turn off your phone if you can or move it to mute. Shut down the email or the social media while you work. Tell others around you that you need to concentrate so please stop talking. Do whatever works for you within the laws and the social setting.

9. Create a work kit or place.

If you can have a set place for your work do so. If you need to move from place to place create a box or bag that includes all the things you will need. Do not have to run back and forth to find pens, pencils or paper, Keep some of all these things in your bag. Even you computer users may need a small pad of paper and a pen in that computer case for the time you need to make yourself a note or when the power is off.

10. Add more steps to the list as needed – skip the things you can’t do for now.

As you are working on your project or your list, there will be things you can’t do right now. Do not dwell on those things. Skip this and move on to the next thing. Having that thing on your list eliminates the need to remember to do it later.

11. Do focus sets – 10-minute blocks and repeat.

Chunking, doing things in small short blocks, and then taking even a micro-break can help improve focus. In teaching, I find I need to move around the front of the room every so often to keep the students listening. As a student, I found that even shifting my position in my seat could help me refocus my attention. A leg that is falling asleep takes precedence over most lectures.

12. Push through to the goal.

It is tempting to stop one thing and do another but if you are close to the end and there is the chance you could finish one thing now, try pushing through to the end and then crossing this off your list. One less thing to remember to get back to improves your ability to concentrate on the other things going on in your life.

There are my suggestions for exercising your attention paying brain muscles. What have you found that helps you stay focused?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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How many senses do you use? Mindfulness and memory.

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

Mindfulness

Mindfulness.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

A mindfulness exercise for all the senses to improve mental efficiency and memory.

Most people rely on one or two senses to do all the work. How many do you routinely use?

One reason memories fade over time is our excessive reliance on one or two senses to store and anchor information. You were probably taught to remember things by converting them to words and then creating a story about the person or thing you needed to remember.

Memory functions better when you use more than one sense to store that memory.

Writers struggle with this problem frequently. We envision a scene; paint it with colors and plenty of verbal descriptions. We describe the shape of things, the size and arrangement. With all that description the scene should come to life. It doesn’t. Our scene is flat.

What has gone wrong?

Life is more than shapes and colors. Visual is important, ask any photographer. There is more to a life event than what is customarily captured in a two-dimensional picture.

Here is a simple mindfulness exercise to help you improve your powers of observation, use of multiple senses and improve your memory as a result.

Take a walk. Find a place where you can pause to explore your situation without the use of your eyes. A park bench, bus stop or seating areas at public buildings make great places for this exercise.

Sit with your eyes closed, or if safety is a concern look down and focus on something small and plain. (Check my post on Shrinking the World by Staring at a Rock.)

Don’t try to figure things out, simply experience them.

What smells do you smell? Are they constant or do they fluctuate? Can you identify them? Are they pleasant or disturbing? How would you name them?

What are the sounds you hear? Without looking can you identify what is creating those sounds? Can you imagine the bird making that song? As you concentrate on the sounds you may well find that you notice more sounds and that they vary in pitch and intensity.

If you hear traffic, is it a car, truck or bus? Which direction is it traveling? If there are people nearby what are they talking about? With whom?

What sensations do you feel on your body? Can you feel the wind on your skin? Where is the sun? Find the sun by feeling not by looking.

What tastes are you sensing? Was this something you brought with you, part of your breakfast or lunch or does this place have a taste as well as a smell?

Notice, but do not dwell on what you mind is thinking. If thoughts come racing through your mind let them go in peace. If you must capture that thought and not let it go I find that having a pen and paper in my pocket allows me to write the thought down and get it free of my mind, and then I return to my mindfulness exercise.

Do not allow yourself to judge your senses. Unless a professional has told you that there is some reason for a deficit in one of your senses it is likely that you can improve your underutilized senses by practice and by being more observant of the things they try to tell you.

Pay special attention to the times your senses of smell, taste or hearing disagree with the story your eyes told you about this place when you sat down here. Sitting by a fountain can be especially helpful here.

I once sat on a bench by the fountain on the college campus where I teach. There are many fountains down the center of that walkway. I had walked by repeatedly and seen only fountains that constantly throw water in the air. This day seated and experiencing the fountains I discovered that they each had a cycle, the flow fluctuated and with that fluctuation, the sounds varied. It length I realized I could predict when the fountain nearest me was about to subside by a faint feeling of spray on my cheek even before the fountain had dropped in volume.

The constant pattern of fountains masked constant changes in the same way our over-reliance on sight may mask the changes in smells and sounds that go unnoticed in our daily life.

Learn to rely on more senses and you will find that your mental efficiency grows and your memory improves.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Finding success when fear is in the way

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

Success or failure sign

Success or failure.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Success – You can’t get there from here; you need to go somewhere else first.

Do you have a picture of success in your mind? Have you thought about the things you will need to do to get there from where you are? But you can’t seem to make any progress?

Is there a fear blocking your path?

One major obstacle in the path to being successful for many of us is that boulder-sized fear that is right in front of us. What will you need to do to get past that fear and reach the success you were meant to find?

We have talked in the past about making sure that what you say your goals are is in fact what you really want out of life. Nothing so clearly undermines success as heading towards the one goal we say we want while looking over our shoulder at the goal we wish we were working on.  Secretly wishing we were going somewhere else impedes all forward progress.

Your goals also need to be consistent with your values. If what really matters to you is your family and friends, good relationships make you happy; trying to make a lot of money will take you away from your goals and reduce the time you have to spend on improving those relationships. Sure you need some money, but how much money is enough and how much time with a loved one is too much?

Fears in our path to success can come in all sizes and shapes.

One fear that keeps people from trying is the fear of success. What would it mean to you to be truly successful? If you are unsure if you believe you don’t deserve success or you think others will look down on you and reject you if you stood out, then your brain will help you out here and sabotage your efforts to do something that it knows you don’t really want.

To reach success, however, you define it; you need to believe that you deserve to succeed.

Fear can take up a place in your way to success wearing the disguise of doubt or self-distrust. If you don’t believe that you will be successful, others around you will find it difficult to believe in you. If you give off that vibe that you don’t really want to accomplish anything, those around you will spend their time helping people who want to go somewhere.

Some fears shrink when you approach them.

That old bogeyman under the bed disappears when we shine a light under the bed. The same is true of many other fears. Avoiding unpleasant things makes them scarier. Some fears will shrink rapidly once you walk up to them and begin the task.

Some fears won’t budge and you have to find ways around them.

If the thing you fear is a real risk, you need to look for ways to reduce that risk. Insurance and savings are two ways people shrink risk. Getting the education and training you need to be successful in a field also reduce the risk of heading in that direction.

Think for a while about the role of your fears in keeping you from the success you want. Is it trying to protect you from failing? Is it warning you of a real risk that needs to be taken into account?

Concurring fear is an important step in your journey to that happy, successful life you deserve.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

5 reasons learning and memory are not about intelligence

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

Puzzle

Memory pieces.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Average people remember things that supposedly smart people forget.

Our educational system and a lot of parent’s efforts to help their children learn are misguided.

Somewhere along the line, we got the impression that to be a good learner you needed to be really smart and that if you scored low on an I.Q. test then you would never be able to learn.

That is just not so. Being smart helps, but it is not the whole story. There are things anyone can do to improve their memory and learning.

Here are some reasons why.

1. Learning is emotional, not intellectual.

If you truly enjoy something it is easy to learn a lot about that subject. If you don’t care about something it is next to impossible to remember. If you have ever had to take a class in school because it was required, but it was nothing you will ever care about after the class is over, you know what I mean.

Excitement fuels learning. Anything that gets you excited about a subject leads to better, learning, memory and retention of that subject. Practicing memory games can make learning more fun and goes a long way towards improving your memory.

2. Learning is cumulative.

We find learning about something very difficult when we don’t have the foundation to understand the subject. Knowledge is cumulative. If you don’t have the basics down the advanced material becomes more difficult.

Begin with something simple, something that interests you and as you learn more about that subject. Ask yourself what else you want to know about. Follow those trails wherever they go and you will find yourself become more knowledgeable about many things.

3. Learning and memory require willpower.

To learn some things requires willpower. I wrote a while back about how many people have difficulties with willpower. One reason willpower is so elusive is our tendency to confuse willpower and won’t power. Another cause of poor willpower is the natural human tendency to enjoy today and forget tomorrow.

The hardest form of willpower is the ability to do something unpleasant today because it will produce future gains.

4. Learning is about how many words you know.

Memories for most people are saved as stories. The more words you know the less effort it takes to convert this expertise, real or imagined, into a story that will be easy to remember.

Movies and books are hard to remember if you don’t have the vocabulary to store and retell the events that made this story important.

Reading anything can improve your vocabulary. The more you read the more you learn and the more able to learn and remember you become.

5. You can’t rely on only one sense to store information into memory.

Having multiple anchors in your memory from multiple senses helps you to store and retrieve that memory.

When there is someone or something that you want to remember to try associating that memory with all your senses. What did it smell like? What were the good smells and the bad orders? Did it touch you internally as well as externally?

Paying attention to the sound of the person’s voice, their facial expressions and the way you experienced their presence will help you in remembering that person.

Most of us have tried to improve memory by becoming better at memorizing words rather than by learning to engage all our senses and fully experience the event.

In future posts, we will talk about some ways to improve your acuity and mental efficiency using senses other than verbal memories as ways to improve your ability to remember.

Go out there and practice mental efficiency, memory improvement and the other skills you will need to create the success you want.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

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

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

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.