Deciding to Pay Attention
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I often had teachers and other grown-ups tell me to stop whatever it was that I was doing in order to “pay attention."
It’s always been a challenge. But these days I am finding that it was good advice – although maybe not in the exact way they meant it at the time. Paying Attention (aka Noticing or Being Mindful) has changed my life. Paying Attention seems so easy. Paying Attention is taught in Kindergarten. And Paying Attention is actually free. But “easy” is a subjective word. A cook might think that it's “easy” to whip up a pot of vegetable soup from memory but until you start doing it and then doing it some more it might not be so “easy.”
As a Life Coach I have needed to learn to walk my talk. I teach my clients tools that can help them find freedom from things like anxiety, overwhelm and anger by questioning the thoughts that are creating these feelings. I teach them ways to better get in touch with their gut instincts. And I help them remember what brings them joy and how to get some of that every single day if they choose to. But the key to being successful in using these tools is paying attention and noticing. Which seems easy, right? (trick question).
Let's start with thoughts.
Judging from the data out there, we humans think somewhere between 50-70,000 thoughts per day. Most of these thoughts go by so quickly that we are not even aware we are thinking them. Additionally, some thoughts originated in our minds so long ago that we don't realize that they have imprinted on our consciousness. Yet there they are - - showing up as self-limiting beliefs that influence our moods and our behaviors.
An example: The other day I was in my car and I realized that I was seriously grumpy. Nothing felt good. I had been snarky to my kids. I was about to just write it off to "just being in a bad mood" when I decided to pay attention. I said, "WTF?" and even as I asked, the feeling started to shift. I had a conversation with myself (um, it was out loud, in the car - but maybe I'll save that for a different blog post…). And as I started asking, answering and observing, I became aware that my mood was based on something I had read on Facebook earlier that morning - something seemingly so small that it was like a seed that had taken root in my mind and I had not noticed that it had been growing all morning. Between finding the thought and then deliberately taking a few deep breaths I immediately began feeling better.
Finding the thought or cluster of thoughts often takes more inquiry and more digging and more breathing and more noticing before things start to shift but the first step is always, unquestionably, paying attention. It's worth way more than it costs!