Because I consume a lot of content, I frequently read things that overlap with other things I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, blogs I’m following, etc. I try to pay extra attention to those things when they happen, believing that those serendipitous moments often happen for a reason.
Recently, that forced me to pay more attention to…attention. At the same time I was reading Finding Flow, which I blogged about here, and learning about the importance of attention to achieving flow, I was also participating in a class at my church called The Journey. In preparation for a recent session, we read Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and the Lamp Under the Jar.
The Parable of the Sower is all about the different ways that people receive the Word of God and what kind of fruit it allows them to bear. And it turns out that the difference boils down to one thing, and it’s Jesus’ instruction from Luke 8:18a: “Pay attention to how you listen!”
The message was the same to each individual. The difference was in how much attention the recipient paid to it. This made me think about the importance of paying attention. It’s so easy to get on auto-pilot in our busy, distracted world and fail to pay attention to everything happening around us.
It reminds me of the famous Kenyon College graduation speech from novelist David Foster Wallace, this is water. Click here for full transcript and audio. But I really like the shorter clip from this video:
Stop and pay attention this week. See how it causes you to order your life differently.
In his sermon this morning, my pastor had a great message for everyone who has had life upended by COVID-19. The advice he gave to our congregation is useful for any person or organization dealing with this crisis, or, as he stated, any crisis that comes along.
Think about not getting caught waiting; waiting for everything to return to normal…most likely things are going to be different in the future. There’s no going back to what was, so we need to lean into what’s coming and not miss out on the opportunity that this season – this situation – gives us. We want to look back at what we’ve lived through in this season and accept the challenge of it for what it is and see it as a part of moving forward.
So my challenge to us is this: ‘Are you going to look back at this season with rejoicing or with regret? Are you going to rejoice in the opportunities that you had to learn and to grow and to engage with your life in a new and maybe different way and set yourself up for a better future or are you going to regret having all of the time that you’ve had and all this opportunity that you’ve had different than it’s been before; are you going to regret not having taken advantage of this opportunity. Are you going to sit back and let this all happen around you and to you or are you going to grab a hold of the opportunity and grow into what you want to become when this is all done and we’re on to whatever the new normal is after the storm?’
As pastor McCready said, we get to choose how we respond to the crisis – we have a choice in how we respond when anything in our life doesn’t go the way we want. He put it like this:
“In every storm, we have a chance to respond. We have the choice. We can either get bitter or we can get better.” Pastor Bill McCready
So, what mindset will you choose in the midst of COVID-19? Are you going to use the time of isolation to get better? To read good books, build new skills, shape better habits? Prepare for a new future Or, just follow Twitter and Google News all day and get bitter, hoping that the world quickly goes back to what it was? It’s your choice.
When most people describe flow, it takes on a mind-less quality; you’re in the zone and simply repeating a task where the brain disengages and muscle memory takes over. However, as Csíkszentmihályi points out, it starts by being mind-ful; it starts with the ability to focus attention.
According to Csíkszentmihályi, the people who are more often in flow don’t have a greater capacity for attention, but have learned to pay attention to what’s happening around them. As they engage with the world, he writes:
The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.
Being in state of flow starts with paying attention to the world around you and how you engage with the world. This includes our work.
Without some effort a dull job will just stay dull. The basic solution is quite simple: it involves paying close attention to each step involved in the job and then asking is this step necessary? Who needs it? If it is really necessary, can it be done better, faster, more efficiently? And, what additional steps could make my contribution more valuable? Our attitude to work usually involves spending a lot of effort trying to cut corners and do as little as possible. But that is a short-sighted strategy. If one spent the same amount of attention trying to find ways to accomplish more on the job, one would enjoy working more and probably be more successful at it, too.
I admit that I have often thought of attention as a limited resource. And there are no shortages of competition for our attention in a digital age. This perspective – of the ability to focus and multiply attention is very interesting. The lesson is clear: if you want more experiences of flow in your life, start by paying attention.
It’s that line, spoken in the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate, that made Admiral James Stockdale, famous. But it’s an obvious question. What am I planning to do here on this site? Why start a blog in 2020. I thought those were so 2002?
If you know me, you know that I’m a life-long learner. In fact, that’s an understatement. I’m President & COO of FiveFour, a training company where I’m constantly learning, teaching and creating training content for the development of our many clients.
But learning is more than just my occupation. It’s part of my faith (the picture here is of me preparing to teach Sunday school) and my hobby. I also read novels at night in an (often futile) attempt to settle my brain for sleep.
For the past seven years, I’ve read at least a book a week. Two years ago, I increased that to two books per week and last year it was three. If you want to know what I’m reading, check my out on Goodreads.
Those books, along with the many articles and podcasts I consume on a regular basis, and the things I learn running two companies, will form the cornerstone of the content I post here. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place. I hope you’ll hang out for a while. And come back.