Are You Paying Attention to What You’re Paying Attention To?
Not long ago, I was at a weekend retreat (the same weekend that I had an epiphany after falling off a high ropes course). Exploring the grounds when I first arrived, I happened upon a sign with 11 words carved into it: Are you paying attention to what you are paying attention to? I glanced at the sign and hurried on. A lounge chair at the mineral pool was calling my name.
The next morning, I passed the sign again. This time I stopped and let the question sink in. What had I been paying attention to lately? I sighed. I already knew the answer, and it wasn’t pretty.
Steven Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Don’t get buried in the thick of thin things.” By “thin,” Covey meant trivial or unimportant matters. We all have our own definition of what’s thin (or thick). For me, it’s things that seem juicy or intriguing in the moment but feel toxic and icky later on. My middle-of-the-night ruminations or regrets often include sharing a bit of gossip, getting stuck on being right about something, or skipping a mid-week training session.
None of these indulgences are particularly damaging or even noteworthy. Inevitably, however, they leave me feeling kinda blech. Worse yet, when I pay attention to the “thin” things, I can be really hard on myself. Suddenly, my attention is on things I’m not proud of, like having an extra glass of wine at dinner rather than giving myself credit for organizing a meal train for a friend in need.
Yet, we’re all guilty of allowing that internal voice to get the better of us and say things we wouldn’t say to our worst enemy. Late at night, in that liminal period between midnight and sunrise, we can throw self-compassion out the window and berate ourselves over woulda, coulda, shoulda. We fixate on thin things and completely lose sight of our good deeds, our kind words, and our best intentions. (I call this getting trapped in “horizontal” vs. “vertical” thinking.)
Standing in front of that stone sign, I knew it was a wake-up call. Time to start paying attention to what I was paying attention to. Enough fixating on self-criticism and endless critiques. Instead, I’m shifting my focus to the “thick” questions that really matter. How can I add value for my clients? Who needs my help today? How can I help someone live a brighter life? How can I brighten my own life? Now those are questions worth paying attention to.
It’s taken me a long time to learn that the quality of our attention creates the quality of our lives. This realization is invaluable — and empowering. (It will also help you answer a question I asked a few months back: What will cause you to fall more deeply in love with your life?) How about you? Are you paying attention to what you’re paying attention to? I challenge you to start right now. Who knows what you’ll discover!
I love helping leaders and teams build strong company culture by paying attention to what really matters. Email me to find out more! Plus, sign up to get our newest posts about bright culture, leadership, and more.
Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a bright company culture creates bright individuals + bright communities — even a brighter world.