HOW INTENTION SHIFTS ATTENTION
There is famous research by Chris Chabris and Daniel Simons in which most participants failed to see a person in a gorilla costume passing by because they were too busy concentrating on counting basketball passes. While the experiment is on selective attention, it's also as much about the power of intention. After all, the participants' intention was to count basketball passes - not spot a giant gorilla.
Our daily lives can be full of things that demand our attention. From responsibilities at work to an endless stream of content right at our fingertips, it's easy to lose track of what it is exactly we should be focusing on. A giant gorilla could walk into a room and we wouldn’t even see it because our mind is elsewhere. We could be at home, yet we're still thinking about that one email we received at work. Conversely, we could be at work, yet we're overcome by the thought of errands waiting for us at home.
Where our attention lies could ultimately affect our productivity, the way we engage with one another, and the way we experience daily life.
Attention is focused awareness. Whereas intention is awareness with a deep sense of purpose. And this is what could make all the difference in the world when it comes to choosing where to direct ourselves. Attention without intention could easily become distraction.
Start Where You Are
At Equinimity, we often discuss at length the significance of being present - the benefits of bringing our attention to the here and now. It is important to note that oftentimes, there is an intention to this practice. It could be for the purpose of feeling calm, acknowledging what we are feeling in the body, restoring a sense of balance or simply savoring the safety, peace and joy of the present moment.
Notice that starting out, the intention isn’t to spot a giant gorilla or some other profound task. Rather, we begin by bringing awareness to ourselves and what is happening around us. Exercises such as grounding, mindfulness, deep breathing, and meditation have been found helpful in this process. As we gently build the capacity to sit with ourselves, so too does our ability to train our attention on what matters most and our ability to resist distractions. This can also lead us to take positive steps towards listening more openly and purposefully to one another, helping us to be more present not just for ourselves, but for others as well.
Reflect on Values
Last month, The Human-Animal Connection conducted a month-long series, The Power of Presence, at Equinimity. One of the takeaways from the class is that being able to connect to the present can give us the freedom to choose what we pay attention to. Not tethered to distractions or anything else, we can determine what is precious to us in that very moment. Is it the feeling of the afternoon breeze? The sound of our friend’s voice as she recounts her day? The smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen?
As we grow in our awareness of what we hold valuable, our attention can come from a place of meaningful intention. For example, if we value inner calm and stability throughout the day, we can let our intention guide our attention toward people, activities, and situations that make us feel peaceful and relaxed.
And in a beautiful cycle, what we pay attention to can nurture the very things we value - peace, healing, spotting a gorilla, and everything in between.
Our next Equinimity University class is on Generative Listening - a process that allows us to engage with one another with a deep sense of acceptance and purpose. Learn how listening is an important factor when it comes to attention and how it builds compassion for oneself and others. Click here for more information and to register.