How many times have we heard this in our lives? As toddlers learning new things our parents might have encouraged us to pay attention. As first graders our teachers might have sang a cute little song to get us to focus. As high school students our teachers probably demanded that we stay awake and pay attention to what they were saying because it was critical to our survival in the real world! Well……here we are surviving. Let’s be honest did we really pay attention even when we were awake? Pretty sure the answer for most of us is no. I see this everyday working with high school students. They are the world’s best at zoning out, I mean wayyy out. I always thought it was just because they do the same things everyday and are just too cool for school. You know you’ve been there. BUT something happened Friday that changed my assumption. I was participating in a career day listening to this wonderful physician’s assistant talk about his career, something he was clearly passionate about. I was really into what he was presenting. Then, my eyes skimmed the room full of adults and students, every single person was zoned out. Gone with the wind. At first I felt so sad for this man who was excited and passionate about his career; he was funny, and had a neat presentation going. My sadness quickly turned to anger that these people were not paying attention to him. Then, I started to process everything that was actually happening and it hit me like a ton of bricks what the term “pay attention” really means.
When we “pay attention” we are literally paying someone with our attention.
How beautiful is that? To be able to give someone a gift such as our attention, what an honor. But, to not pay our attention when someone is in front of us sharing something, not so honorable. Have you ever had a moment where attention was paid to you? Maybe an intimate conversation with a family member or friend, maybe an audience at a speaking engagement, maybe your boss when you have a work issue. Paying attention is something we get the chance to encounter everyday. If you continue to think about that moment when someone really gave you their attention, you might be reminded of how you felt. I’m thinking it made you feel pretty special, probably loved. These people are gifting you their attention and in turn you feel loved and comfortable enough to continue to share. What an awesome moment. Now can you recall a time when someone failed to pay attention to you? How did that make you feel? Probably pretty small, unloved, not needed. I feel you on that one! People who fail to pay you with their attention are letting their actions speak, and most of the time we end up translating those actions–they don’t care about us. They don’t care enough to listen. They aren’t invested. This leads to shutting down, losing trust, reclusive behavior. Giving the gift of attention allows people around you to grow, bloom, and flourish.
What does paying attention look like?
What if you slowed down and made an effort to genuinely hear, not just listen, to people daily. How different would your world be? What if you slowed down and gifted your kids with your attention at breakfast, what would this do for their world? What if you gifted an employee or co-worker your attention when they come into your office? Or if you gifted attention to your sister when she calls you? No doubt the lives of these people would begin to flourish. Being aware of your attention is something you can practice daily. It starts with you. Are you gifting attention to yourself? Spending quiet time with yourself daily is a great step. Time to just sit. It is a way to quiet your mind for the people you will spend time with. This is the start of the gift, pulling together your awareness of your body and mind–your attention. As you move throughout your day and begin to encounter people, being present in the moment will also help in gifting attention. If your mind is thinking about what you’re going to eat, or how late you’re going to be, or all of the emails you need to send out then you can’t gift your full attention to someone. Clear your mind and be in that moment. When you think back to the time someone paid attention to you, they were probably just right there in that moment. Their mind wasn’t lost in thoughts somewhere, they were just with you. In order to pay attention we have to be present. Meet the other right where they are. This is showering them with a beautiful gift that will allow growth. Another aspect of gifting your attention is to enter the conversation judgement free, and keep it that way. While practicing gifting attention, you have spent time preparing your mind and body, you are aware and present, now you can’t cast judgement. You have to allow the person to be comfortable. Let your kids talk, even if they are silly, crazy, worrisome (at times) words. Let your sister talk even if you don’t see her point of view. What happens when we get worried or disagree is that our attention turns off. We say “that’s wrong”, “you’re making me worry”, “I don’t like that”, causing the person to shut down. Make the choice to keep your attention on and keep gifting it. Turn the judgement off and watch the people around you bloom.
Gifting your attention is one of the greatest forms of respect you can give a human.
People just want to be loved. Paying attention to another is a beautiful way to love. It is the greatest from of respect because it doesn’t take anyone special to gift attention. All it takes is someone who is present in the same moment. Most of the time when we pay attention we don’t even have to say anything, we just have to hear and see what the other is saying. This week I challenge you to love the people you encounter by gifting them your attention. Set your mind each day and be present in a judgement free moment with the people you are talking to. Shower them with respect and love so they can bloom, grow, and flourish. By gifting attention you are helping to spread respect and love into the life of someone else.