Attention & Values
“Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.”
There are no “rights” or “wrongs” about how your attention functions. Just notice your own attention and get more familiar with how it behaves to learn more and more about ways to harness it for your wellness. When you become the authority of your own attention, you will be less likely to allow others to dominate or control it.
Notice your own attention throughout a day or several days. Act as if you are a journalist following a stranger to write a story about their attention: where it goes and how it is managed intentionally or not. Use your journal (or whatever tool is handy) to make notes throughout the day. You can reflect back over your day or every few hours, but memory isn’t as accurate as intentionally keeping track continually and writing about your attention over a period of hours or a day or two.
This will be challenging since our attention switches and moves frequently. You are trying to notice periods of extended attention versus relatively brief periods, rather than tracking moment to moment. This audit can be repeated often. There’s no wrong way to do it. You will learn merely from trying (and failing) to do these activities
Use your written notes and memory to honestly and accurately answer the following in your self-study journal:
Where is your attention pointed most of the time?
(If you kept track of how long you pay attention to things, you can write about that.)
To which objects is your attention directed regularly or most often?
What captures your attention in the environment? Any ideas about why?
Are the things that you are paying attention to healthy or harmful to you? Describe for yourself, in detail, why each is helpful or harmful or a combination.
Is there a pattern or repetition involved in what you pay attention to?
Evaluate, and ask yourself: what’s serving me and what’s wasting my precious attention?
WRITE IT DOWN!
(Make a two-column list, Venn Diagram, or use the sample chart/logs given below.)
How much and how often were you distracted? What kinds of distractions cause you to lose your focus? Hypothesize about why. Don’t be harshly critical and judgmental. Be objective and pragmatic to learn more.
Based on your attention, what captures and keeps your sustained attention, and/or how do you control it or not?
What seems to matter most to you?
What does your attention tell or teach you about yourself and what you value?
Did you find yourself judging yourself (negatively or positively) while conducting your audit? If so, write down the judgments.
*Note the difference between attention and judgment. (Feel free to review the first activity about the difference between attention and judgment in the previous video on attention and judgment).
Attention & Values
When you own your own attention and control it, you will become more consciously aware of exactly what it is you are aiming at, focused on, believe in, and live by. Attention is linked to your values, thereby directly linked to your priorities, goals, actions, and habits.
“Find Your Passion” or “Study Your Own Attention”
Part 1: Establish your baseline knowledge about yourself and your attention by writing a quick list of what you think you pay attention to the most in your life. Spend only a few minutes on this and move on to part 2.
Part 2. Watch yourself for a day, a week, a month and keep a list of the things you pay attention to. This is similar to the Attention Audit Activity above. Make a written list on your phone or in your journal, or use the example form given, but WRITE your observations down (as if you were a scientist collecting data). You won’t be accurate with your data if you rely on only your memory. The log is to collect information about yourself. Keep track once an hour, or at the end of the day, and at periods that work for you throughout your day(s).
Don’t make it a chore so much as a curious activity that you are doing because you care about yourself and you want to learn more about yourself. Your ultimate motivation for spending the time doing this is to be healthier and well by knowing yourself better.
Understanding your own attention and the things you pay attention to will help you define what you are aiming at in life— what may or may not give it real purpose.
To know what matters to you (your values) will be especially important when you are struggling with problems in your life (see Part III, Challenge, “Know Your Why”). You have to have something to get out of bed in the morning for, something that makes sacrifice and struggle worthwhile.
You need something to live for—a “why” to bear any “how,” in the words of the famous philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.
One of the benefits of studying your own attention to learn about what you are aiming at is that you will be able to come back to this lesson, use what you have learned to help yourself, change your focus, choose the best goals and aims possible for your wellness (see Course on Choice), and thereby manage your problems to improve your life!
Your Passion & Purpose is Already Inside You.
Pay Attention to Attention and you just might find it!
Make studying your own attention and learning about your values fun. Keep your sense of curiosity, compassion, and humor toward your self-study and what you discover about your attention. By paying attention to attention, you may find that your passion, love, and interests find you more often than you seek and find them!
DISCLAIMER: You don’t have to follow any of this as if it’s homework and you’ll be a failure or punished if you don’t! Use the following only as one example. Create what works for you in terms of tracking your attention and discovering your values.
Example: Attention Data Graphic Organizer
|Thing(s) I pay attention to||Time of day/length of time (optional)||Repeats? Y/N||Notes|
Part 3. Your list/log/chart should show the things you pay attention to.
Using your forms and your notes, evaluate your findings.
Look for patterns and repetition in your log/notes.
Which things in your life get the most attention?
Which things get the least amount of attention?
|Things in your life getting the MOST attention||Note which things makes me feel either bad/weak/worse or makes me feel good/strong/better||Things in your life getting the LEAST attention|
|Sample: playing video games||Good for a while, but then bad later because I spent too much time and not enough on other things I enjoy or should be doing that make me feel good|
|Makes me feel good, strong because I feel independent; but also a little bad because we are losing a connection; maybe relationship is weaker.||Sample: spending time with my family|
|Wrestling and all things related– watching videos and reading about it and talking with fellow wrestlers.||Makes me feel strong, good, better. I learn more about it from watching videos and reading books about it too, and that makes me stronger and better too. This is my passion and important to me. It makes me happy even though it’s challenging, and I have to give up spending my time and attention on other things I might also like to do.|
Part 4. Reflect and Write about your findings:
What do you think about your data? What conclusions can you draw?
How do you FEEL about where you are and are not spending your valuable attention? Sit with the feelings, not just the thoughts.
Are you judging yourself or learning with compassion and curiosity about your attention?
What was the collection of data process like for you? Did you encounter the urge to justify or quit the activity?
Did the activity confirm things you already knew about your attention (see your baseline response in Part 1)?
Did you learn something new about where you place your attention?
Did you learn that you thought you knew yourself but now realize that there’s still more to learn? (*There always is and always will be!)
Do you see any places/time where your attention was being manipulated by others? If so, could you act to change that?
How might you control and/or make choices about where to put your attention?
Do this evaluation of attention periodically, repeating the process to learn more. Over time, you will see long-term patterns occur. You can consciously choose better where you’d like your attention to go and therefore who you will become! (See also Course on Choice)
More About Values
If you are curious about the concept of values and how it is related to psychotherapy, or knowing yourself in order to become more fully actualized, I recommend reading the works of Abraham Maslow and his psychology of being and Steven Hayes and his colleagues who created the ACT approach to therapy.
Psychological flexibility (this is not only resilience) is at the heart of ACT and Hayes has a handy Values tool/activity worth using as part of this course on Attention. You will see how your values are especially important in the Courses on Challenge & Choice. You will see that knowing who you are is the way to become more confident and sure of yourself especially when it comes to determining what you ought to do or who you ought to become. You will be better able to choose what is appropriate and “right” for you. What is good for you; what is better, worse, best– all of which implies value. Make sense?
Maslow is popularly known for his hierarchy of needs, but his work in defining Humanistic psychology underlies and informs the self-study courses you are taking! I did not know this when I wrote my book and created these courses. Just about everything I learned about humanistic principles of psychology came through my personal writing and my Bikram Yoga practice– embodied mind and body modalities for self-realization! Only when I began my graduate studies in counseling psychology and started reading Maslow, I found that his books articulated much of what I had experienced and discovered through my own self-study, including peak experiences, creativity, and this entire process of self-actualization.
Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Steve Hayes & Spencer Smith
*I highly recommend this book and the values-related activities and worksheets Hayes provides.