Word Of the Week #580: Attention

September 16, 2015 by  

Attention – the act of mentally concentrating on a single object, thought, or event.

How often do you concentrate on a single object, thought, or event? Do you tend to multi task and not concentrate on any “one” thing? Have you ever spent time doing something but didn’t give it your full attention?

This New York Times article really hit home for me and a great follow up to last week. “What Is Our Attention Worth as an Asset?” written by Carl Richards reads, “Pay attention! We hear this command a lot. People want to remind us to focus on what we’re doing. But I’ve been thinking about a more literal meaning: paying with our attention.

Attention is a currency. We choose how to spend it, just like we spend our time and money. Unlike money, however, there’s no way to store attention for later use. It’s a bit like time; we use it or lose it.

But attention is more complex than just the time it requires. You can spend time on something and still not pay attention to it. I’ve become painfully aware of that point while spending time with my daughter but paying attention to my Twitter stream.

Our attention might be the most in-demand asset we have to offer. We could spend 100% of our attention online, and the internet would still serve up more clickbait begging for our attention.

So given the value of our attention, shouldn’t we pay more attention to how we spend it?

a attentionPretend you woke up tomorrow and someone took all the things you now pay for with attention and switched it to money. To spend time on Facebook, you would have to enter your credit card number. To check out what your friends are doing on Instagram, you would need to pull out that card again. How much time would you spend on Twitter then?

Social media is an easy target, but it provides a great example of how we don’t associate our attention with a cost. We think of certain things as being free, but if it requires our attention, we’re paying a price of sorts. What item on our to-do list didn’t we complete because we spent an hour on Facebook? Did we miss an opportunity to spend time, in person, with a friend? Did we pass up the chance to take a continuing education course that we needed to stay current at work? Did we miss an important appointment?

This concept sounds simple, but in practice, we don’t always realize we’re making a trade. For a week, I challenge you to ask one question before you do anything that seems free: If I had to pay $20 to do this, would I still do it? The price is high enough to make you think, but low enough that if you really want to do something, you’ll feel comfortable saying ‘yes.’

Then, see what happens. What items make you hesitate? What activities feel even more valuable?

The goal is to pause for a moment and ask what our attention is really worth.”

This week’s focus is on your attention. What is your attention worth to you? Is there anything you pay attention to that if you had to pay for it would stop? What are you paying attention to?

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