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Carolina Commons Creative

Welcome to the Attention Revolution

Bradley Denis
Bradley DenisPublished on May 24, 2022

This is a very exciting and strangely daunting time to be alive, and certainly to be a professional motivation and mindfulness coach. The questions I am asked most often are "Who do you work with?", "What is your market?", and, "Who needs your services?"

These are very easy questions to answer because everyone at some point in their lives struggles with motivation and clarity. Whether it's young people trying to decide on what to do in school, post-graduation, professionals switching careers, or adults who find that they need to enter the workplace unsure of where to start. My job isn't to tell people what to do, but rather to help people find the answers they already have and shift their perspectives just enough to discover the keys to opening more doors.

Much of my work involves learning to listen. While this may sound like something from a remedial self-help book, it really has much more to do with mindfulness. The first step I often suggest people take is to pay attention to what they notice. If someone is feeling depressed or negative, oftentimes they see the world in terms of negativity and obstacles. Simply bringing attention there invites us to make a space around that awareness. This allows us to examine our emotions and thoughts more closely. Once we understand what's at the root of our observations and judgments, it's much easier to separate thoughts from reality.

I often work with young people who struggle with a lack of confidence and a sense of aimlessness, either borne of not knowing themselves and what they want, or of having too many choices and being paralyzed by the options. Both situations are equally stressful, and both are often occupied by high functioning minds. The solution, as always, is to bring attention to both scenarios and understand what is at the root of these thoughts. I am a strong advocate for meditation, but that's not always easy or desirable for people. The "notice what you notice" exercise is a lovely, non-committal first step toward intentionality. By taking that step young people begin to see the world in terms of choices and opportunities. As they begin to separate themselves from the world they can understand more clearly where their desires and interests end and other individuals' interests begin.

In today's over-saturated attention economy it is exceedingly difficult for young people who lack strong skills in discernment, to separate their own attention from that cultivated attention from sources like social media. As we begin to reclaim our limbic systems from these magic rectangles we carry in our pockets and purses, we can make strong and independent choices about where we want to place our attention because, as I will often quote, in the immortal words of Ian McGilchrist, attention is a moral act. This means simply: bringing our attention to bear on something implies releasing attention from something else. If we're doing that without conscious intent, we relinquish control to some other agency. When we really look at that closely, no one, I think, would willingly agree to do so.

Remember, what we observe in the world is a reflection of ourselves and our mental state. If you want to feel better about yourself, put your attention toward things that make you feel good. That means beauty. That means kindness, toward ourselves especially. If I am depressed, it may be very difficult for me to try and re-frame everything I see in terms of beauty, so I have to make it a game. I have to act as if it's real, or as if I mean it. That's the challenge. As they are fond of saying in the 12-Step community, "Fake it 'till you make it." When we adopt the posture of wakeful attention, often our mind will follow rather quickly. We can try that by smiling, sitting up straight, opening our eyes wider, and we'll immediately sense the potential of acting "as if."

As I write this a small Pileated Woodpecker has landed on the trunk of an enormous elm tree next to me. Watching this bird, so detailed in marking, so diligently pursuing its task, I am reminded about how focused we can be on our problems, sometimes literally banging our heads against them to try to find solutions. But from my position, I could easily guide the bird up the trunk a few feet to a rotten patch of tree that is certain to hold what it's looking for. Sometimes we just have to back off and look at things from a different perspective to gain a whole new set of values. Think of this newsletter and my services as an opportunity to gain a potentially helpful perspective.

So: Today's exercise is: to act as if you wanted to reclaim agency for yourself. Sit up a bit straighter, smile in spite of your emotional state, and open up those eyes toward something beautiful. Please share your results. Let me know both what works and what doesn't. If there is something you're working on, and you'd like some help or another perspective, please reach out and let me know.

Thanks for being here and for subscribing. Lots more to come, so stay tuned, stay safe, and be kind to yourself.

With Respect and Admiration,

Bradley

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