My son always said he paid attention in school. It wasn't always to what the teacher was doing or saying, and it wasn't always to the work he had in front of him, but he was paying attention... attention to whatever it was that crossed his mind, or sparked some creative energy.
Personally, I think 'paying attention' is a misnomer. When paying attention, be it in school, work, or driving, we need to make sure we 'focus' on what we should be focusing on (teacher, books, screen, or the road around us). And, while this distinction may be simply splitting hairs, I think it is an important distinction.
When something is interesting, stimulating, or important, it is much easier to pay attention. But there are so many times that things are not stimulating or there are other thoughts, images, or issues vying for the same attention, or we simply lack the energy to maintain attention.
Here are some things we can do for ourselves and our kids to help us all pay attention:
- Don't underestimate the power of sleep. A good night's sleep and food for energy are powerful tools to help maintain focus.
- Minimize distractions.
- At home, prepare proper work spaces where necessary materials are easily accessed (computer outlet, pens/pencils, paper, printer, books, etc.) See my post on setting up work spaces: http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/03/theme-thursday-sense-of-space-and.html
- Make sure there are no outside noises, lights, entertainment systems near the workspace to woo or distract.
- Note that music is not necessarily a distraction. Often music (background music, familiar music) can actually help focus attention. The problem is that while music helps some focus, it can distract others. This is something to work out for yourself and/or your child.
- Squeezy toys or small hand manipulatives can also help individuals maintain and focus attention. Like music, though, it can help some and distract others. IF your child is having some issue focusing, you may want to try this.
- In school, try to find ways to interact with the materials in class - even if in a lecture, try to think of questions to ask or ways to use the information. Play with it, tweak it.
- Sometimes paying attention simply means slowing down and observing, interpreting, and incorporating details and resisting distracting and competing impulses.
- Jonah Lehrer (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 3, 2011 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904716604576542593019231326.html ) relates focusing with strong executive function skills. Executive functions include focusing, organizing, prioritizing, sustaining and shifting focus, managing and regulating emotions, and self-monitoring. He notes that these skills can be developed and nurtured through difficult board games, computer memory and skill games, yoga, tae-kwon-do, and through interactive curricula in the classroom.
- Establishing and maintaining schedules, helps set and model 'regulation' and may help children resist impulses and focus on the task at hand, knowing other needs will be met at other points in the schedule. Note, though, that there always needs to be some flexibility in establishing and maintaining schedules. Being too rigid creates all sorts of issues and conflicts.
- In another article "Attention and Intelligence" http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2010/04/attention_and_intelligence.php Jonah Lehere notes that,
"...delayed gratification isn't really about gritting our teeth or exerting willpower: it's about controlling the spotlight of attention. Likewise, intelligence isn't just about remembering abstract facts - it's about controlling what thoughts we're thinking about in the first place."
"...So how can we bolster our selective attention abilities?...When we read a complex narrative - say, Proust or Woolf or DFW - we're forced to constantly exert our attentional muscles just to follow along. On a deeper level, however, we're also being asked to switch between different kinds of informational streams. We need to pay attention to the sentence, and to the subtleties of language and character and plot, but we need to also remain aware of the larger themes unfolding in the work."
- Along this vein, go for walks, focus on different things. Focus on the noises around you, the colors around you, the life around you, the odors around you, and the quiet around you. Shift focus from one aspect to another, look for large details and small details in the objects around you. Do this with pictures and illustrations in books and magazines, with sentences and paragraphs, with clothes or items in a store. Intentionally shift focus, see what you notice!
And while so true, my next post will present the opposite agrument... quiet time, letting your mind roam and NOT pay attention is also important...
So please leave comments and join me next week for the counter argument.