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Are You Paying Attention?

June 29, 2016

By Jacinta Hin

The other day I went for a long walk near my countryside home. Alone, strolling through fields and tiny villages, I found my self tuning in to the sounds and sensations around me.

Listening to pitch-perfect chirps of birds close and afar, I noticed how they never interrupt each other, always allowing for a few seconds of silence before taking their turn in a solemn musical that felt as if it was  being composed in the moment, solely for my ears. I noticed how plants overgrow and yet also allow space to each other, both wildly random and meticulously organised at the same time. The smell of grass, cabbage, soil, and the faint linger of the nearby sea: all blending into a sweet potpourri, but also each distinct, standing out on its own.

Soon enough the separation between my inner and outer world started to slip away. Time stopped. My mind became still, my heart open.

In paying attention, we become present in both the reality and the untapped promises of life. We reconnect with our sense of self: how we feel, who we are, what is most important. We see through noise and distraction into the heart of whatever matter is at hand. We become aware of what previously passed us by, unnoticed, disrespected.

When we do the opposite, we miss out on clues and opportunity. We may never know how happy or unhappy we are. Or that we need change. We don’t notice how fast our parents are ageing, or that a neighbour needs a friend. We fail to see how we are standing still, staying put in a life that we’ve already outgrown.

In our modern world, we struggle in paying attention. We are easily distracted. More often than not we rush through the day, absorbed in mindless thinking or, worse perhaps, lost in a constant avalanche of driftless thought.

Do you need to pay closer -better- attention? Here some simple tips that may be of help:

  1. Slow down. Take deep, grounding breaths multiple times a day. Un-rush. Do less. Reduce your to-do list to a bare minimum. Start your day with a mindful activity. Triple your number of rest breaks. What else can you think of?
  1. Witness. Observe yourself and your surroundings at regular times. How do you feel? When is your energy up? When is it down? What do you notice? Do you remember what you did an hour ago? Any insights worth noting down? Keep a journal and reflect on your findings.
  1. Focus on what matters most. What needs your attention? Prioritise. Let go of the unnecessary, declutter. Create space for what stirs your blood and warms your heart.
  1. Do one thing at a time, and give this your full attention. "Long and deep periods of single-tasking are crucial to our mental well-being", says Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Work in a Distracted WorldWhen we switch back and forward between tasks (aka multitasking), without proper breaks and breaths in-between, our attention gets scattered. We stay on the surface, while exhausting our brain.
  1. Listen to yourself and others. Make time. Give someone space to be heard. Concentrate on what he or she is saying without wanting to immediately jump in and react. Connect with your inner voice. What is your heart telling you?

A while back I put myself on a short-attention-span detox diet. These days I single-task and try to stay with one thing long enough to get into the flow of whatever I am doing, and do it well. I watch people concentrated on their phones without reaching for mine. I go for long walks. In doing so, I am slowly rewiring my brain and learning to be more present.

Why do I do this?

Blame it on age. I am 53 years old and want to embrace more fully the remainder of a life that is uniquely mine. I want to be aware in every moment, with attention for detail and moving at a pace that suits me.

Also by Jacinta:


About the author: Jacinta Hin was born in the Netherlands and has been living in Tokyo, Japan, since 1989. Her professional background is in human resources, career management and coaching. She is passionate about helping people, herself included, discover new perspectives of possibility, move to embracing and working with their transitions, and designing and realizing changes aligned with who they truly are and what they truly want from their lives.
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