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Mastering the Art of Attention in a World of Distractions

Constantly running from task to task takes away our attention. We make to-do lists in the shower, look at our phone regularly if not all the time, and post photos of our dishes while we have dinner. Learning to take control of your attention through simple daily practical exercises by involving all your senses will help you increase your happiness and well-being. 

Our experiences are determined by what we decide to focus our attention on.  

However, controlling one’s attention is not easy, especially in our hyper-connected world where distractions are numerous and constantly prevent us from living in the moment. To-do lists, our email inbox, our phone, the many tabs open on our computer… Distractions are everywhere, all the time. As a result, our attention is scattered, and our minds cluttered with intrusive and unsolicited thoughts.

Control your attention

What if you could decide what needs your attention? What if you could simply choose to hold back the thoughts that energize you and discard those that hinder you? No doubt about it, we would live a much more serene, happier, and drive a more meaningful life.

While you can’t eliminate absolutely every distraction from your life, you can learn to direct your attention where you want it. Zen Buddhists have taken this approach for centuries. In the past, Zen monks devotionally exercised their “attention muscle” through carefully chosen practices.

There are some ceremonies, such as the traditional Japanese tea ceremony that are still widely practiced today to cultivate the art of mindfulness.

Involve all your senses

With its complex set of ceremonial rules, you would need years to master the Japanese tea ceremony. But the idea on which it is based is simple: enjoy the moment fully by focusing on what you see, the scents, the sounds and the feelings coming when you touch or taste something. You can practice this anywhere, and anytime.

Using your senses is an intense exercise that diverts attention from distractions and anchor yourself in the present moment. Let’s take each of our senses and see how they can help you master the art of attention.

1. Sight

Seeing and looking are two different things. You see thousands of things every day but most of them don’t hold your conscious attention. By looking closely at what surrounds you, you can train yourself to become more aware of your surroundings and to better control what you see and observe. You can do this at home, when you walk your dog, or during a meditation session for example, or simply looking at the sky or the sea.

2. Sound

We don’t really always pay attention to the sounds that surround us. But instead of ignoring them, why not listen to them? To practice deep listening, simply close your eyes and focus your attention on the sounds that come and go around you. When you hear a sound, don’t immediately move on to the next, focus your attention on it until it fades away.

3. Smell

The sense of smell is incredibly powerful. Smells can calm, stimulate memory and evoke memories. A walk in the forest offers the perfect opportunity to explore the effects of different scents on you. Pine forests are particularly magical for an olfactory journey, as conifers give off powerful characteristic fragrances. Walk around fully focusing on the smells will help you find out how they affect your body, mind, and soul.

4. Taste

Do you remember the taste of your breakfast this morning? Can you find the flavors, textures and aromas? Chances are the answer is no. In our busy schedules, eating has become something we do quickly and without any real awareness. Try to focus your attention on every meal you eat. In this way, you exercise your awareness and attention.

5. Touch

Of all our senses, touch is perhaps the most neglected. Our sense of touch affects us tremendously and is so ubiquitous in our lives that we don’t really pay attention to it. Focus on your sense of touch by becoming aware of each touch. Feel the effect of water on your skin when you’re in the shower, the feeling of your clothes on your skin, or try washing dishes with your eyes closed.

Are you ready to start mastering the art of attention?

You can find more on happiness on my blog.

13 thoughts on “Mastering the Art of Attention in a World of Distractions

  1. I find asking myself “what are you doing right now” works wonders. I even have a reminder at the top of my phone that says this in case I forget — which is about every ten minutes 🙂 It keeps my mind from wandering down too many rabbit holes.

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