“Yep I’m listening, I’m just finishing this off and oh I need to remember to do that after this, and yep keep talking, wait a minute I’ll just take this call…”
Always switched on and trying to cram as much into our lives as possible, we can find ourselves in a constant state of partial attention. This may lead us to forget things, leave tasks undone, make mistakes, not listen properly, feel overwhelmed and as a result we are of no use to anyone, especially ourselves. Our attention is a limited resource and most of us try to stretch it beyond its means. To make space in our mind we need to be more effective in how we use it.
If we think of our capacity for paying attention as a small fragile stage where we place our many thoughts upon, we can appreciate that it doesn’t take much to overload it. Overloading our stage is also what we are doing when we are trying to focus on doing more than one thing at a time. Sooner or later our stage collapses under the pressure, leaving us unable to focus effectively and our mind feels ‘cluttered’.
To use the limited space more effectively we need to be mindful of what we are focusing on. To build such mindfulness, start by using the breath as an anchor to refocus thoughts. Find a time each day to complete this breathing cycle:
- Inhale for five breaths,
- pause for one breath,
- exhale for five breaths,
- pause for one breath.
- Repeat this five times.
Once we are able to use our breath as an anchor, despite the many distractions we may encounter, we can then start to build on our skills. We can become more mindful of the thoughts that we have and where we are placing our attention at any given moment. In time and with regular practice, we can start to free our minds from the clutter and maximise our ability to pay attention.