Focussing attention is like turning on a mental flashlight. What we see leaves its impression and becomes part of our memory.
In the steady quiet of my consulting room I can easily devote my attention to another person. Although my mind may wander, it stays inevitably connected to my client.
Outside my office my attention is up for grabs. Unless I am particularly careful or intent on something, my attention often ends up wherever it lands. When on the street, it can be captured by birds, advertisements, homeless people, or trash. When at home, it can be commanded by anyone - at least for a while.
In an inspiring book about neuroplasticity called The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge, M.D explains that paying attention releases a chemical called BNDF. This chemical helps build links in our minds that allow us to learn and remember. As children we absorb information like sponges because BNDF is very plentiful. When very young, we pay attention to almost everything so that learning seems automatic and effortless.
As adults we are less globally curious. Our location and roles determine much of where our attention will land. When we select whom to have as friends, whether to pursue an education, what to do for a living, whether to have children, which parts of life to explore, and which parts to avoid we are guiding our attention. We naturally attend to what is around us.
I have spent a great deal of my life trying to understand emotions not really because I decided to, but because it seemed necessary.
Our life choices can often occur automatically, almost as if by default.
As adults, we need to pay attention to where we focus our attention. Sometimes we must set the stage to learn something new. By shifting our focus, new understanding comes naturally.
One moment of focused attention can lead to a new awareness; many moments repeated over many months can lead to new patterns and lasting change.