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How to Pay Attention

Paying attention seems like a simple thing, doesn’t it? But if you’re like me—even a little bit—it can actually be quite hard.

These days, it’s actually much easier to NOT pay attention to anything of importance.

What do you pay attention to instead? Anything that comes along! You get in the habit of reacting, sometimes responding—but rarely noticing.

The modern world is designed to discourage you from paying attention. If you want to counter the norm, you have to be intentional about it.

Standard advice consists of the following:

  • Practice mindfulness: Meditate—or use other tools to develop the habit of being present and fully engaged in the moment
  • Reduce distractions: Identify common distractions in your environment, such as smartphones or social media, and take steps to minimize them
  • Prioritize tasks: Create a to-do list or set clear goals for your day to help you stay focused on what truly matters

And hey, that’s not terrible. If these tips work, great. There are many other blog posts about those topics.

But if you’ve tried mindfulness and are still struggling—here’s another idea.

Put another way: Here is what you do when those things fail.

First, start by focusing on what the real problem is. (Hint: it’s probably something you’re ignoring.)

Smartphones and social media can be overwhelming and drain your attention—but maybe the real problem is a lack of purpose.

If you aren’t excited about something, if you don’t wake up thinking about what you’re going to do today—maybe that’s part of the problem.

Next, here’s a radical idea: Craft your own attention manifesto. Take some time to reflect on what truly matters to you, what you want to pay attention to, and what you want to ignore.

Remember, paying attention is a skill that can be honed. Try attention training exercises like journaling, deep reading, or anything that absolutely requires your full attention.

Indeed, learning to pay attention is both the cure for being distracted AND the benefit of being focused. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

As always, I write from experience. I’ve lost my way many times, but I know how to find it again.