Invest in your mental health by creating a mini-vacation for your mind.

 

by Dana Rizer, FEAST Executive Director

"Pay Attention." It’s a common phrase and a seemingly simple instruction. But, with the advent of social media, twenty-four-hour news cycles, and an app for everything, the meaning of this statement has taken on new dimensions. On the surface, many of these business models appear to be “free,” but that’s because they’re all trading in one exceptionally valuable commodity: our attention. (Check out Shankar Vedanta’s fantastic Hidden Brain episode for more on this).

With the great tidal wave of current events crashing upon us in recent weeks, I found my own attention drawn in a thousand directions. The more I refreshed my web browser to check the latest headlines, the more I found myself feeling not just distracted, but also deeply disoriented, and eventually, depleted.

A few weeks ago, I went to a yoga class, and the teacher offered that simple instruction: Pay Attention.

This is always good advice, but hearing those words in that moment, the phrase suddenly meant something more. In an attention-economy, we are all, indeed, paying attention.

When we’re paying for something in dollars or other currency, we understand how the exchange works. If we pay a dollar here, a dollar there, twenty dollars for yet another thing, over time, unless we reinvest, our money will eventually run out. If we continue trying to pay for things after the money is gone, we’ll eventually wind up in debt.

In an attention-economy, the same holds true, although the exchange isn’t always as obvious.  When we pay attention to social media, to the news, to our phones, and to our apps, over time, our attention becomes so diffused, it essentially runs out. This state of mind is prevalent enough that we even have a phrase for it: attention deficit.

Fortunately, there is a way to reinvest our attention, and it doesn’t cost any hard currency at all. All you need to do is take a few moments to practice basic forms of mindfulness, like watching your breath, noticing your body, or even observing the natural world around you.

If you do this for even a short time, you’ll find that your own internal reserves will be restored.

Why not start now? It just takes three minutes.

Three-Minutes of Mindfulness

  • Sit comfortably, wherever you are.
  • Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your abdomen.
  • As you breathe in, notice what parts of your chest and abdomen inflate first.
  • As you breathe out, notice what parts of your body soften and release.
  • Continue to observe what happens as you inhale. Continue to observe what happens as you exhale.
  • Continue to watch your breathing for a few more rounds.
  • When you’re ready to transition back into your day, begin by paying attention to the environment around you. Notice the sounds. Notice the colors, surfaces and textures. Feel your body and whatever you are seated on.
  • Once you feel reoriented, proceed back into your day.

So, the next time you reach for your phone while waiting in line or scroll through your social media feed during an otherwise quiet moment, remember, your attention is valuable. Pause for a breath and ask yourself: Is this really what I want to pay attention to, or is there something else that deserves my precious, mindful time?

 

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