Being intentional about where I direct my attention


You know how so many of us are so busy? Of course you do – if you don’t hear it from the people around you else, you may well be saying it yourself. But – even though we might shake our heads and say we need to change, do we? No? I wonder why?

No judgment here – I’m a self confessed rusher too. It so often feels like there is so much to do – so much to understand – so much to be involved in – so much to care about. Plus – others seem to manage, more effectively than I do, so if I just try harder, maybe I can catch up. But I’m realising that’s not possible.

The opportunities and issues to care about are infinite, really. There are too many things to focus on in one lifetime. I’m well aware that it’s pointless judging what other people seem to be able to manage, based on outer appearances, and putting pressure on myself to try and do what I think they manage. Because – who knows what is going on in other people’s lives, really, and more importantly, life is not a competition. But it is hard to resist the temptation to benchmark against others (we are trained through life, since schooling, to do so). And outside our own lives, there are so many big issues going on – bigger than we can change on our own, by pure busyness. We need to narrow in our focus.

Most of us know this. But still, many of us try to keep up, whether from habit, from pride or a need for validation, or because, subconsciously we worry that if we stop the every quickening merry-go-round, we’ll be flung out and who knows what will happen?

That’s not to say many of us don’t TRY to slow down – or take actions that feel like we are. There are lots of mechanisms to help us. Programs and books and podcasts and activities to help us simplify. To work out our priorities, and ensure they align with our values. We complete worksheets and projects and challenges, designed to overcome the busyness. I’ve tried a number – but as I haven’t let go of anything in the process, I’ve ended up being busier still, while trying to let go.

So when I heard, in a podcast I was listening to (note – I was using my travel time wisely to also learn. I wouldn’t want to waste that time!), this comment stood out to me.  :

‘Part of the challenge of being alive in the 21 century with all this distraction is being intentional about what we are paying attention to, and what we are orienting towards. It’s not that we should ignore (what else is happening) but we don’t have to orient towards it’. *

This comment was made in the context of how we can make effective positive changes in the world, given the amount of negativity that exists but it also applies to the basics of life. After all, how can we have any influence if all we are doing is mindlessly rushing?

I’ve started to become more intentional. And by starting, I mean I am actually making more of an effort to notice. Which I think is the first step. And what I’ve been noticing is:

  • How easy it is to slip into busyness. Sometimes it’s time wasting – social media being an obvious culprit for someone who is easily drawn to the next related item (tip – there is no end!) – sometime’s its a feeling of trying to be perfect (again, not possible), or to be there for everyone (unfortunately, not possible, and often, not desirable).
  • Even the first step of seeing and noticing everything isn’t possible – we are selectively glancing, at best, because if we noticed everything, we’d become completely overwhelmed (have a read of The Curious Incidence of the Dog in the Nighttime for an explanation).
  • I miss a lot of things I think are important – or am irritated as I do them – because I am trying to keep up with what I think is less important but am fearful of the consequences of letting go. And how mixed up is that?

Being intentional is hard. Not just because it takes effort. But because it involves letting go. It involves the risk of hurting the feelings of others, because it’s just not possible to be there for every single person, to pay attention to every detail. It runs the risk of letting go of something that was more meaningful for me than the others involved, and owning up to the fact I was invested in something that was fairly superficial (sometimes it’s easier to ignore this). It runs the risk of not focusing on something that may turn out to be worthwhile. And, it’s likely to require us to do more than complete a course – we have to be open to more fundamental changes, and these might be uncomfortable or painful. These risks all feel scary to me, and I feel like sheltering away and hope that maybe the decisions will not need to be made. But I know this isn’t the case.

In the end, without being intentional, there is just too much, it’s overwhelming, and it’s not possible to differentiate what actually is valuable. Life becomes something to be survived, and not appreciated, something to get through without actually slowing enough to connect and to love. You can get towards the end and realise it’s been for little gain. And we have And that’s not really the life outcome I’m aiming for.

Maybe I’m being introspective at the moment in part because my grandmother is becoming more and more frail, and time with her is really important. And I see the impact she’s had, in a life that she describes as ‘not very interesting, really’. But that’s not the case. She just knew her priorities – they were towards others, her health and her emotional and spiritual wellbeing. She is a great role model of intentionality.

So I will keep on this seemingly slow journey, played out to some degree on this blog (sorry that it feels like going over the same ground – maybe that’s just me?), potentially circling a bit, but hopefully keeping moving towards a more intentional, attentive life.



How about you? Where do you focus your attention? And how do you manage (if you do) to be intentional about this?

* From a Dumbo Feather interview of Krista Tippett, the editor and creator of On Being. 

2 thoughts on “Being intentional about where I direct my attention

  1. I love your insight about your grandmother’s life, Helen. It’s a beautiful reminder of the important things.
    But oh, if only it was that simple to simplify. I am my own worst enemy in that sphere…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So am I! I do think that part of it is the emotional issues involved, Ils, and I am hoping that, by at least acknowledging that intentionality and focus play a role, I might be in a better position to let go of some of the emotional / obligation related clutter. Alternative approaches haven’t yet worked, so I need to give it a go!


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