Pay attention! I heard this phrase a lot while in elementary school. I remember once hearing it just before a yardstick struck the desk next to me and broke into pieces. I admit that there were times when I let my mind wander away from the subject at hand and needed some gentle nudging to get back on track.
As adults, we are no different. A few days ago, my wife and I were driving to a business that we’ve never been to before. As I drove, we were involved in an interesting conversation. Suddenly she said, “where are you going?” I realized that I had gone into “auto pilot” with my driving. I had missed the turn to the business and was heading towards the freeway as I typically did when driving down that road. Again, I wasn’t paying attention.
We all do this at times. I’ve been thinking lately about the word “pay” in that phrase, “pay attention.” Do we have to pay something in order to direct our attention where it should be? I’ve decided that, yes, we do. It takes an investment of energy to keep our attention focused. It means giving up what might be more interesting or exciting to think about at the moment, for that which is important. It means staying in the present moment rather than letting our thoughts wander. And, with the constant distractions of today, that’s not as easy as it used to be. Too often we are, as the phrase goes, “lost” in our thoughts.
It takes practice and effort to stay focused on the task or topic at hand. One of the best techniques I have found is to remember that you are not your thoughts. Imagine your thoughts and emotions as a river. Now, imagine climbing out of the river and standing on the bank, watching and observing as your thoughts rush by. Then comes the empowering realization that you can control those thoughts and emotions. You have the power to change the course of the river, to decide what form and pathway it takes. It takes effort, but with practice, you can begin to control your thinking and your attention. As you do, your work will be more productive, your relaxation more relaxing, and your relationships infinitely better.
Success Tip: Don’t just let your mind wander. Invest the time, effort, and energy required to train your mind to stay focused on what’s important now. Invest in yourself: pay attention.