What is the sum total of all the things you pay attention to?
Answer: Your life.
(From last week's recharge quote of the week by Oliver Burkeman). Because your life is the sum total of all the things you pay attention to, it's well worth paying attention to where you pay attention. I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve noticed that my mind wanders off like a toddler at a carnival. When working out, I often lose count of my reps. And it’s not like I’m counting to 100. Most often it’s 12. I’m in goldfish attention span territory! This edition of The 5-Minute Recharge is for people (like me) who need a stronger attention muscle. Here are five ideas to help you build your attention asset so that you can spend it in ways that will pay off. 1. Do mental push-ups One of the best ways to train your attention and improve your ability to focus is with “mental push-ups.” Sit quietly and direct your attention to your breath, wherever you feel it most strongly. Popular places to follow the breath are your nostrils, your chest or your belly. When you notice that your attention has wandered, as it will, escort it gently back to your breath. Every time you notice your mind has lost focus and you redirect it back, your attention muscle becomes stronger. This simple but not easy mindfulness exercise is the centerpiece of University of Miami neuroscience professor Amishi Jha’s training program for first responders, the military, and others for whom lives depend on the ability to pay attention. Professor Jha has found through her research that you should set your mental push-up timer for 12 minutes, five or more times per week, the optimal time and frequency for attention training. The pandemic has created a perfect storm of distraction, stoking the three enemies of attention: stress, threat, and bad mood. We’re all driven to distraction these days, and a lack of attention to what’s going on in our minds can make us do things that we may later regret. “Sometimes knowing ‘I am completely reactive right now and shouldn’t hit send on that email’ is extremely useful.” - Amishi Jha Find out more about the mental push-up and Dr. Jha’s mission to wake people up to what’s happening in their lives in “The Science of Training Your Attention” from the Ten Percent Happier podcast 2. What if you don’t have 12 minutes for mental push-ups? STOP. The stop practice is a great way to train all aspects of your attention. Stop what you’re doing a few times a day. Use a physical STOP sign as a prompt, a cell phone notification, or any form of interruption. Take a breath. Just a normal breath, nothing fancy. Observe. Take in whatever is happening in your inner and/or outer landscape. Proceed. Direct your focus where you want it to go. Find out more about the three types of attention and how the stop practice strengthens them in the latest episode of the Finding Mastery podcast featuring another interview with Dr. Amishi Jha. Amishi Jha has a new book out called Peak Mind that explains the science of attention (and why she's appearing in so many podcasts and articles this week including this article from The Guardian). Jha's book provides practical tools to give you access to your mind’s full attentional awareness. You can check out Peak Mind here and Dr. Jha's TED Talk, “How to Tame Your Wandering Mind” here. Are you still with me? We spend roughly half our lives tuned into DMN, the default mode “daydreaming” network, so I won’t be offended if your mind has wandered off—particularly at the professorial phrase “full attentional awareness”—but I'll try to hold your attention with three more quick tips. 3. How can you focus with a weapon of mass distraction in your pocket? Our phones can be useful, entertaining, and uplifting. It’s the needless addictive scrolling that takes us away from our lives and leaves us feeling anxious, angry or sad that’s the problem. For the average person, research says that 31% of phone use is troublesome. Cutting down the amount of phone time by a third is doable for most of us with strategies such as turning off all notifications, putting the phone in a jar by the door or, for the advanced attention seeker (see idea #5), scheduling time for scrolling. Arthur Brooks has more advice on “How to Break a Phone Addiction” in The Atlantic, or you can call on phone relationship expert Catherine Price for more tips on achieving screen/life balance. 4. Wear a concentration crown This whimsical tip, that’s especially useful for people who work from home, comes from Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable. Whenever you need quiet time to focus on deep work, put on a hat that tells people you shouldn’t be disturbed. Check out a cheesy example of a concentration crown at the end of this newsletter. You can find out more about concentration crowns and the real reason you’re driven to distraction in this All the Hacks podcast interview with Nir Eyal. 5. For advanced attention seekers... What is the opposite of distraction? It’s not focus. It’s traction—making progress toward your goals, values, and the person you want to be. You can make traction tangible and commit to living your values with time blocking, the blueprint for the advanced attention seeker. When you time block, every waking moment—including time for diversions such as scrolling, playing or streaming—is laid out out a daily plan. A calendar that is time blocked will tell you what distractions lured you away from gaining traction in what matters to you. Time blocking will enable you to answer this critical question: “How much overlap is there between what you say is important to you and how you spent your attention over the last month?”- James Clear Find out more about time blocking from the king of deep work (I wonder if he wears a concentration crown?) Cal Newport. _____________ Pay Attention to Your Recharge Quote of the Week Giving your full attention to an activity that you find meaningful is the key to the happy state known as flow. Sadly, the “Father of Flow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, passed away this week. In his 2014 TED Talk entitled “Flow, the secret to happiness,” Csikszentmihalyi gives us our recharge quote of the week, conveying the ecstasy of losing yourself in flow. Here he describes the experience of a composer in an act of creation: “He doesn't have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can't feel even that he's hungry or tired. His body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness because he doesn’t have enough attention to really do something well that requires a lot of attention and at the same time to feel that he exists.” - Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi Wishing you a positively cheesy week with lots of flow, Lynne