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JUST PAY ATTENTION

JUST PAY ATTENTION

“Pay attention!”  What happens in your head when you hear those words?

Childhood memories of parents, teachers and other Big People ordering you to do it probably aren’t your fondest memories.  It almost always meant, “I’m going to tell you something you probably are not interested in or something you don’t want to hear.  Listen anyway!”

pay-attention
“Pay Attention” by Nigel Goodman via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Public address and warning system pronouncements and alerts that begin with “Attention!” are either boring, unintelligible, or scary…stuff that produces sinking feelings in the pit of your belly or a blank-out of white noise in your head.

In the military and other groups, “Attention!” is an order.   There’s even a special, specified way to “stand at attention” that indicates to the leader-person that you are, indeed, alert and ready to receive your next order.

team-moo
“Team Moo” by will_cylist via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
I suspect that whenever most of us hear the call for attention, there’s a kind of automatic shut-down.

For many of us, our attitude on being ordered to attend to something is summed up by Quora contributor Josh Manson’s comment in this 2015 thread that centered around defining the meaning of the phrase:

I am too broke to pay attention most of the time.

I’m too broke to pay my respect to anything.

I am ok with paying no mind to things that don’t concern me.

To pay means to give something of yourself to another. It is normally associated with money, so we don’t need to specify anything when it’s money we pay, it will be assumed. But to pay attention or pay respect is still giving something of yourself to another.

One question that springs to mind is this: “Okay, so I pay attention.  What does that buy me?”

THE VALUE OF PAYING ATTENTION

As adults, the value of paying attention is likely to be self-evident.  Somehow, we know, it’s the key to many things related to our lives.

  • We have to pay attention to walk across a busy street.
  • Our self-esteem and the authenticity of the way we walk develop according to the attention we give to our own thoughts and feelings, needs and values, beliefs and ideas.
  • Our happiness and the satisfaction and fulfillment we feel as we meet the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves is enhanced by our attention.
  • Our relationships and the communities we build are a lot more satisfying if we actually pay attention to each other and to the world around us.
  • Our business affairs, our careers, and the work we do to develop various skills require our attention.
  • Learning anything new demands our focused attention.
  • Our finances certainly benefit from our attention.
  • If we have health issues, we need to pay attention to our way of living in order to heal ourselves.

We can miss many of the moments of our life because we are not fully present for them and are moving around on auto-pilot, going through our daily routines, unaware of what we’re doing or experiencing as we ignore the world around us and multi-task our way through our days.

pay-no-attention-to-the-blues-singer-in-the-rear
“pay no attention to the blues singer in the rear” by Mary via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

ATTENTION VS JUDGMENT

Okay.  Now it gets convoluted.

In order to do this “paying attention” thing right – the kind that can change our lives — first we have to understand that there is a difference between “attention” and “judgment.”  Very often the definitions of those two words get mixed up.

Attention is neutral.  We just notice something.  We “pay attention” to it and see that whatever we are noticing is just there and we are there with it.

Judgment, on the other hand, is what comes after the noticing.  We humans are really, REALLY good at doing and fixing and solving stuff.  Because we are bent that way, we tend to look at everything we see as something that needs to be assessed, critiqued, and then probably “fixed” or rejected or enhanced.  We want to do something with this thing we noticed.  We jump right in and start rearranging and moving stuff around.

We even do it to each other, which leads to all kinds of story-making, poetry, tragedy and comedy and such and all sorts of turmoil in our lives.

While “judgment” is certainly useful, it is not “attention.”

Attention is about noticing and being with something without trying to change it.  Attention means taking the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, and to watch as things change by themselves with no interference from us.

everyone-paying-attention
“Everyone paying attention” by André Luís via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Hmmm….

Isn’t that starting to sound familiar?  It’s like that stuff we’ve heard from all kinds of wise guys about “being mindful” doesn’t it?

It’s also a lot like what all those life-coaches and love counselors tell us about the most effective ways to enhance our relationships with others:  Be open.  Notice all those other people without judgment or criticism, welcome them, accept them, be patient, be kind.

The same advice applies to developing your relationship to your own self.  (The best thing about being an adult is that we also have the capacity and the wherewithal to pay attention and to nurture our own selves as well.)

And the key to all of that is just simply to “pay attention.”

YOUR BRAIN ON “PAYING ATTENTION”

It’s an amazing thing.  Numerous studies by neurologists and other smarty-pants scientists keep showing that the way we think and what we pay attention to does physically affect us and have tremendous impact on our lives.  Those wise guys of old were right!

One 2009 best-seller book, BUDDHA’S BRAIN:  The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, mixes neuroscientific breakthroughs with ancient wisdom teachings from thousands of years of contemplative practice and is filled with information about the practical tools and skills that help you deal with life in our complex and complicated modern world.

Hanson, a psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley California, is also the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom.  According to him, the scientists have found that “attention shapes the brain.”

What we pay attention to is literally what we will build in our brain tissue.  Whatever we focus on affects how the neurons in our brains develop and wire themselves together.

This YouTube video, “How To Change Your Brain,” was taken at the Greater Good Science Center as part of the “Science of a Meaningful Life” series.  It is a fascinating look at how mindfulness meditation, a way of practicing disciplined attention, is like training your muscles.

The practice, he says, can strengthen our brains as well as help us focus our attention.

ANOTHER TAKE

Emily Fletcher is the founder of Ziva Meditation and the creator of zivaMIND, the world’s first online training (it says here).  She is highly regarded as a leading expert in meditation for high performance.

Her YouTube video, “What You Put Your Attention On Grows,” was published in 2014.  It is a lovely reminder that you do have a choice about what you want to pay attention to.

Here’s a poem:


AW, GOOD GRIEF!

‘Kay.

So I took the road less-traveled

Way-back-when, while in my youth.

I recall it was my “Seeker” phase.

(I remember I was all

“St. George” and “forsooth.”)

That day I stopped in this dark woods,

I don’t think I pondered deep.

I had no previous appointment,

No promises to keep.

 

I took off running like a shot

Past t’s to cross and i’s to dot.

Booking it faster than my fears

I ran on down the faintest track,

Blood all singing in my ears.

I abandoned that clear-cut highway that

Headed right into the tried-and-true,

The Mama-says-not world

That kept making my brown eyes blue.

(I don’t recall one glance back.)

 

I wandered and I wondered

What the heck this thing’s about,

Got tangled up with other folks,

Never did quite figure it out.

I’ve been up and down and sideways

On so many tracks and trails,

Traversed bits of this old mountain side

(Had to run sometimes and sometimes hide).

Puzzles sought and solved,

Conundrums all untied,

Mysteries unveiled,

Companions who lived and died.

 

Those tracks and trails meander on

Through the thick surrounding brush,

Then over the great forest comes

A deep and poignant hush.

 

And me,

I look around and realize:

Dang!

These things are wild pig trails.

 

Ummm….

Where am I?

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Huh?” by Morgan via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR THING

THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR THING

Everybody’s heard about how putting in 10,000 hours  working on a particular skill-set pretty much “guarantees” that you will be very good at using those skills.

The number makes the “rule” easy to remember.  It’s so nice and round.

It’s also more than a little intimidating!  Ten thousand hours apparently translates to about ten years, after all, and I’m not sure whether that includes time for eating, sleeping and doing all of the other stuff humans do.

On top of the sheer immensity of it all, there is a caveat hooked onto that number:  any self-improvement and skill development that occurs after you’ve reached a certain level of skill is actually tied to how you spend your time practicing and expanding on what you do.

WHAT IS IT REALLY?

The 10,000-hour thing bounced around scientific circles since the 1970’s.  Why, the Big Brains wondered, did some people achieve an extraordinary mastery in some discipline while others did not?

It was in 2005 that a research team headed by Neil Charness, a psychologist from Florida State University, published the results of a decade-long investigation of The practice habits of chess players.

Their findings were popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, OUTLIERS, and all of a sudden every man- and woman-in-the-street was urging their offspring to put that nose to that grindstone.

THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY

Throughout the 1990’s the Charness team placed ads in newspapers and posted flyers at chess tournaments, looking for ranked players to participate in their project.  They eventually recruited over 400 players from around the world.

For each player, the scientists collected a detailed history and created a timeline of their significant training and practice events.  The players were asked questions like these:

  1. At what age did you start playing chess?
  2. What type of training did you receive each year?
  3. How many tournaments have you played? When?  Did you win or lose?
  4. Were you coached? By whom?  How?

And so on…

The Charness study not only asked the players how long they practiced, it also asked what the players did when they practiced.  What the Charness team found was that chess masters dedicated five times more hours to serious study of the game than the players who plateaued at the intermediate level.

THE HOW OF THE MASTERS

The grandmasters focused on what Anders Ericsson, a colleague of Chandress, called “deliberate practice.”  These players chose to do activities that stretched their chess-playing abilities where they most needed stretching.  As Ericsson would say, the grandmasters challenged themselves “appropriately.”

The grandmasters studied the moves of historic gamesmen.  They memorized important game strategies until they could recognize the start of a game-winning gambit.  They studied counter-moves and practiced blocking or subverting their opponent’s efforts as well.

In this YouTube video, “Deliberate Practice,” calligrapher Esteban Martinez allows his viewers to watch as he practices writing his kanji.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.

COMPETITION DOES NOT FURTHER

An interesting sidelight was the finding that, after a certain point, tournament play really did not significantly improve playing skill.

The better guy wins.  Period.  If the better guy is you, you’re just using your skill well.  If the better guy is not you, then you lose the game and probably don’t learn much that is new.  The improvement to your game playing, if any, is a small “don’t-do-that-one” insight.

Hundreds of follow-up studies in a diverse array of fields validated the Charness team’s finding that deliberate practice is the key to excellence.  If you practice deliberately, you do get very good.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Assorted life-coaches and other advisors will usually give you the following pointers after they’ve explained about the hours.

  •  In order to get past “good” you have to take on projects that are beyond your current comfort zone. You have to bite off more than you can chew, but not so much that you choke on it.
    • Because the project is an exploration of new territory, you are going to have to shift into high gear and pick up chops. Hustle becomes the order of the day as you try to keep all those spinning plates going on that forest of sticks on your stage.
  • At some point you will go into overwhelm.  If you keep on going past that point, you will break through your  former comfort zone barriers.
    • That’s when your “comfort zone” gets bigger.  That’s when you’ll succeed at pushing back the fences and walls that enclose your zone and all of a sudden you’ll have more space to move.
  • It is a good idea to measure and get feedback on everything when you’re heading onto new territory. Measure, track, and listen your way to a new understanding.  Then you’ll be able to repeat your successes and avoid the potholes and bogs into which you’ll probably fall the first half-dozen or so times you do this.

WHAT MOST ADVISORS DON’T SPELL OUT

All of that practical advice is good and righteous.  They are very likely to work just fine in real life if you actually do them.  However, most of the advisors do tend to touch on (and then bypass) a most important point.

It seems to me that what you are really doing during all the rest of the 10,000 hours as you work towards mastery of the skillset of your choice (after you get “good enough”) is deliberate practice.  No matter what other skills you are refining and perfecting, the one that is the meta-skill, fully transportable into every endeavor, is that one.

maui-trees-at-sunrise
Maui Trees At Sunrise by Derek van Vliet via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that mastery requires practicing deliberately over time.  [Doing something over and over without conscious thought (like a caged hamster running around a wheel) is not deliberate practice.]

As you work your way towards becoming a superb artist or a magical performer, a superlative farmer or a business-magus extraordinaire, you will also be learning how to pay attention to details without drowning in them.

You will be learning how to focus down on the essentials of a thing, learning to suss out what matters and what does not.

You will be developing the capacity to turn your hand to any task, even when it is outside your comfort zone.

More importantly, you will be developing grace and agility, the confidence and the trust that you will be able to deal with anything that life throws at you because, like the chess grandmasters, you will develop a very large repertoire of mindsets, strategies, and moves that work as you move along your way to your own mastery.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Real is “deliberate practice” is just another phrase for what the wise guys call “mindfulness.”

To me, it’s a cool thing to know that a person can get to that without having to sit in a corner folded up like a pretzel, trying to breathe right.  I have a hard time sitting still and have spent a lot of my life failing at that one.  It’s good to realize I won’t actually have to.

What do you think?  Your comments are always welcome….

Here’s a poem…


WAITING

Waiting properly, not stagnating,

Not caught in indecision,

Patiently doing what is essential,

Right, real, and true,

Letting time work its changes

One by one by one.

 

When the time comes to move,

You will know it.

There is no need for haste.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Chess by Bob Vonderau via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below.

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