It’s Your Attention.

And you can strengthen it in just twenty-one minutes a day.

When you decide that SOMETHING has got to change, no matter what that is, the process has to begin in your mind. And the gateway to your mind is to become more aware of what you focus on. Though in the ShapingUp_By_Gil_Elvgrenpast I would have argued that time is one of your most valuable resources, I’ve come to understand that your most precious resource is really your attention.

Because, without managing your attention, you can’t manage how you use your time.

Attention is also where many people stall out because they are so accustomed to placing their precious attention on the wrong things. They are so accustomed to placing their attention on what’s not working, on their resentment, on negativity.

And they are so unaware of how powerful their attention is.

Focusing on fear, negativity, resentment, and old stories can literally destroy not just how you spend your time, but your health. Conversely, research has shown that when you shift your attention to the positive, you shift your entire body chemistry.

Darling, we live in a very distractible time. From smart phones to social media to always being “reachable” to managing households and relationships, there’s always something begging for both our time and attention. When you combine those cultural changes to the fact that we are always “in touch” with work, it’s harder to shift from business to home mode.

That’s why learning to strength train your attention is is not just powerful, it can be critical to your overall happiness.

Before you dismiss the idea of training your attention, let me dispel some of what your inner voices are saying:

  • “It’s too hard.” Saying that training your attention is too hard is akin to giving up before trying. Give your brain an opportunity to shift before you abandon this precious power that you were born with.
  • “It won’t work….for me.” I know that you want things to change NOW, but sugarplum, it doesn’t work that way. Sure, you can make instant changes like coloring your hair or moving, but no matter where you go, there you are. We humans, while different, are still wired the same ;-).
  • “I don’t have time to waste on such nonsense.” Your most precious resource is worth learning to harness because you and your life matters. Learning to manage your attention won’t cost you as much time as you think and the payoff will actually save you oodles of time because your mind is less likely to drift to unhelpful ruminations.

What if I told you that you could learn to hone the power of your attention in just twenty-one minutes a day? Considering we have 1440 minutes each day, isn’t strengthening your attention worth twenty-one minutes? Especially if I told you don’t have to take any time away the activities in your already packed life? You can even do many of these during “empty time”, like in elevators, folding laundry, doing dishes, waiting for computer to boot.

While this can sound a little too “Law of Attraction” it’s based on science; when the Mayo Clinic began to research stress and happiness, training your attention was the first step to living a happier life.

Are you ready to strength train your attention? Here are five little exercises for you. Commit to these for just a single month see if you notice the difference in your ability to shift your focus.

One – Wake Up with Loving Awareness (Time: 2 Minutes)

Having a gratitude practice has been scientifically shown to retrain your thoughts from going to the negative to shifting to the positive. Most of us wake up and immediately begin thinking about all the tasks needing done. Choosing to focus your first waking thoughts on gratitude allows you to begin your day in a compassionate, nonjudgmental, and relaxed manner.

While I love the act of cataloging what you’re grateful for each day, loving awareness is a softer approach to gratitude. You can focus your thoughts on what’s working in your life and how you are a loving partner. You can think about the many ways you are loved and feel worthy and valuable.

Loving awareness is feeling your body – stretching, breathing, and snuggling into your partner.

You can continue that line of focus as you rise: feeling the texture of the floor under your feet, the taste of your toothpaste against your tongue, and the spray of the water from your shower across your shoulders and down your body.

Two – Be Actively Present in Nature (Time: 5 Minutes)

A series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being out in nature made people feel more energetic after spending time in natural sightings. Additional research by doctors found that patients recovering from surgery and heart problems had shorter hospital stays and needed less pain medication when they saw nature out their hospital window versus seeing a brick wall.

What this means for the average person is that being out in nature will tilt your mood to the positive. Notice the way the wind shifts the leaves, the colors of the flowers, and the sounds of the birdsong. Active presence while out in nature gives you a serotonin boost and the bonus of better mood.

Plus, you are giving yourself the opportunity to train your focus while you’re in the nourishing environment of the natural world.

Three – Seek One New Detail in Your World (Time: 1 Minute)

One day, I noticed that there was a smiley face in the grout of our shower. I can’t tell you the number of showers I had taken before noticing this little bit of happiness, but it reminded me that we can see something every day, yet not really SEE it. Once I noticed that little detail put in by the unknown “tile guy”, I can’t un-see it; and it never fails to make me smile back.

Commit to finding one new detail in your world each day.

Training your attention to seek novelty will allow you to connect with the world around you at a deeper level. It will also encourage you to be more curious and be in better touch with your sense of play in the world like you did as a child.

Four – Lovingly Transition to “Home” (Time: 10 Minutes)

The transient period of the day between work and home is stressful. Your brain is still managing the stress of work and traffic, and then you are immediately immersed into “3rd shift” responsibilities, like making dinner and doing the laundry. It’s easy to walk in the door and begin complaining to your partner or the kids the moment you walk in the door.

When it comes to our human brains, the default software installed seems to “fault finding”, but what does that fault finding lead to? Focusing more on what’s wrong and frankly, pushing over loved ones away. Who wants to get a hug or kiss hello from the grouch or worse, deal with a loved one that verbally bites off our head?

Make it your mission to lovingly transition by delaying judgement on anything the first ten minutes you’re home.

Focus on being reconnected with your family (furry or human) in those first ten minutes. Sit and share stories of the day. Appreciate the comfort of your home and sink into that moment of letting go of the world by lovingly allowing yourself to just BE (not DO).

Five – Lavish Kind Attention on Others (Time: 3 Minutes)

There’s a lot of complaining and criticizing happening in the world around us, isn’t it? The Gottman Institute found that couples who share negative interactions are more likely to divorce early. What’s worse is that we are more likely to believe criticism over compliments, which destroys our confidence.

Isn’t it time to change that?

What if you were to make it a daily make it a point to extend a kind and loving compliment to someone you love? What if you were to make a daily point to authentically tell one of your colleagues what a great job they are doing?

You can also extend that kind attention to yourself by daily jotting down the best thing that happened to you that day.

Spending three minutes shifting your attention to what people do right (including yourself) allows you to train your attention for acceptance and compassion.

Training your attention is like training a muscle; the more you train it the more you can use it. Attention is about where your energy goes on a moment-by-moment basis, thus the saying “energy flows where attention goes.”

One of the best things you can do for yourself, your loved ones, and your own happiness is to learn to manage your attention.  Our attention is always at work (just like gravity), so choosing to strengthen and train it means that you can harness your most precious resource towards living a more satisfying, less stressful and happier daily life.

Because you, my darling, are worth it.

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Debra is a life coach, writer, and tarnished southern belle. She resides in Dayton, OH.
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