Coaching for Attention, Creativity & Career says the ADD Mindfulness website. Paying attention is the first skill that has to be mastered, because only when you can focus at will on what you choose can you live life with calm power.
Without being able to sustain attention, very little can be accomplished. Another skill is being able to switch attention at will, from one subject or activity to another.
But the good news is we can train ourselves to focus and pay attention to what we choose, when we choose.
This can be helpful not only in accomplishing tasks, but in working with emotions and moods. When feeling anxious or depressed, you can develop the ability to take some of the attention away from what you are feeling, and place it on some activity that will lessen the suffering.
This may not be easy, and in fact may feel almost impossible, but over time you can train your brain to change your mind.
Attention carries energy and knowing how to direct it can make all the difference in the world.
Here is an exercise from psychotherapist and philosopher Piero Ferrucci, from his book, What We May Be, that can help you strengthen your ability to focus attention:
- Visualize a yellow triangle. Let it take shape on the background of a white screen. (You may not be able to keep its shape steady in your mind’s eye, and its lines and colors may change or disappear; do not be concerned now about the quality of your visualization.)
- Imagine a red triangle by the side of the first one. Keep both triangles in your field of vision.
- Start shifting your attention from one triangle to the other. First focus on the yellow one. You see only that one now. Then shift to the red triangle, and focus only on that one.
- Shift your attention from one triangle to the other a few times, and thus become aware of your capacity to make intentional substitutions.
- Now that you are familiar with this capacity, imagine, instead of two triangles, two different situations, one pleasant, the other unpleasant. First imagine the unpleasant situation in detail. Experience it with all your senses. Then shift your attention to the pleasant situation, and again experience it fully. Now shift your attention rapidly a few times between the two situations.
You can do this shifting experiment with the inner and outer world, past and future. You can shift from any place in the universe to any other place. Always realize that you are the one in the center, the one who can direct the searchlight of attention where you will.
“The ability to direct attention can, among other things, relieve us of several related and widespread habits: the urge to do many things at the same time, the anguish of never accomplishing all we want, the haste to finish one thing in order to start something else. Instead, we learn to do one thing—and only one—at a time, giving it our full concentration.” —Piero Ferrucci