May I Have Your Attention Please

by Stephen Mills on December 19, 2009


Most people I know are fairly responsible with their monetary situation.  I suspect most of you reading this blog have somewhat reasonable control of your finances.  And yet, there are other currencies you deal in every day and to which you pay far less attention and over which you have far less control.  This is a risky game you are playing because some of these currencies are actually more important than money.

Your Attention

Whatever you focus your attention on expands.  It collects interest far more rapidly than money.  As one simple example, when you pay attention to celebrity gossip you are telling your brain celebrity gossip is important and you automatically attract more of it into your life.  It’s not some mystical attraction, it is simply the fact that your brain’s alert system will notice more of it and draw your conscious attention to it.  You get interested in the stories.  The headlines in the checkout stand will jump out at you and you may pick up the magazine and browse it.  Your ears will pick up on the TV news coverage of celebrities and their trivial lives.  You will be drawn toward conversations at work or in social situations that are focusing on celebrities.  It’s a vicious cycle and you need to stop it.  You think it is harmless but it is not.  Your non-conscious mind is thinking about it.  Wouldn’t you rather that super-computer in your head be focused on more creative and important issues?

Another example.  You start complaining about something at work.  Your co-workers join in and you all start thinking of more examples.  You put emotion into your negative thoughts.  Your brain is now on alert and it notices more and more examples of your miserable work life.  You think about it more and more and these negative situations become even more important.  You are just feeding the beast and allowing it to grow to the point it consumes you.  And you thought it was just some harmless complaining at the water cooler.

A Recent Story

Here is a personal example that has a positive ending.  A while back I was browsing a table of new biographies in a Barnes and Noble bookstore.  I noticed two new biographies of Ayn Rand.  I hadn’t read any of her writings for decades, but one of the biographies looked fascinating and I decided to buy it.  I was immediately absorbed in the fascinating story of her troubled and brilliant life.  It took me back 30 years to a time when I first discovered her books and was drawn deeply into her ideas.  In the days after I read her biography I found myself going to my bookshelves and pulling out my really old copies of her books and reading some of the material.  I didn’t really want to spend my time doing that because I already knew exactly what she had said.  I had focused my attention on the subject of Ayn Rand and her ideas started filling my conscious and non-conscious thoughts.  I had told my brain that the subject of Ayn Rand was important.

While I disagree with Ayn Rand in some significant ways, one of the things that drew me to her in my youth was her incredibly passionate belief that ideas matter and that they matter a lot.  To this day I have never encountered another person that has held that belief so deeply or so brilliantly articulated the practical impact of philosophy and ideas.  That’s the good part of this story of my brief time travel back into the world of Ayn Rand.  It reminded me of the importance of ideas.

From that point on I have spent more time thinking deeply and reflectively.  It reawakened in me a passion for philosophy and deeply critical thought.  I find myself now reading some books that are much more likely to light a fire in me than what I had been reading.  I had been focusing on things that were of a more immediately practical nature.  I was not wasting my time on the practical; these ideas were interesting and useful, but they didn’t get me out of bed in the morning or get me excited about life.

I had been paying attention to the practical side of life and thus the practical grew in importance.  I was neglecting some of my most deeply held values; the things that mattered most to me.  So simply paying attention to one book, created a course correction in me that is making my life more satisfying right now.

I started a book yesterday afternoon that is absolutely fascinating, The Age of American Unreason (Vintage) by Susan Jacoby.  It’s about the current state of the anti-intellectual American culture; its causes and its consequences.  I only halfway through it but I’m totally enjoying it and it’s really making me think.  Yesterday afternoon I also bought a new 600 page book I found at B&N called  The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism by Howard Bloom.  I’ve read the author before and he is a big thinker.

What’s the point of me telling you all of this?  What you pay attention to matters and it matters a great deal.  It matters much more than you think.  Even when you are not consciously aware of it, the biggest and most powerful part of your brain is cranking away on what you tell your brain is important.  Your non-conscious brain decides what is is important based upon what you are pointing your attention towards.  What you are paying attention to now in some degree determines what your non-conscious mind will be paying attention to in the future.

“Your attention is the strongest currency at your disposal.  If you squander it, your life will result in one big overdraft.  If you invest it in things that you value, you will collect interest big time – and be interested along the way.” – Alan Cohen

What do you think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Schryer December 19, 2009 at 10:21 am

It’s kinda like the old saying, garbage in, garbage out; treasure in, treasure out. Those things that you pay attention to, those things that you focus on and bring into your life become a part of who you are as a person. So turning your attention to the positive things, and to the things you admire and respect helps turn you into the kind of person you want to be.

I can dig it.
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..Paying It Forward =-.


Gordie December 20, 2009 at 12:07 am

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for the reminder of what we focus attention on really matters and can affect our lives individually as well as well as a society.

Western Civilization is in decline. I believe a major reason for this is because we have chosen to focus and idolize the trivial. Like you said, celebrity gossip is one. people who are serious thinkers and intellectuals aren’t respected by the general populace in in the West.
.-= Gordie´s last blog ..How To Slice And Dice Your Way To Success. =-.


Derrick December 20, 2009 at 8:27 am

Well said….you had my interest from start to finish.



Mark Dowdell December 20, 2009 at 9:23 am

Dead on Stephen,

I just can’t get around it at work, this stupid pontification about Tiger Woods (which I believe must have been one reason for your post). It’s amazing how quickly people will take this stuff in and not only talk about it (keeping it in conversation way longer than it should be) and just entrenching themselves in the controversy. Why do they not realize that it is absolutely meaningless? I don’t get it.
.-= Mark Dowdell´s last blog ..Global Warming Back and Forth =-.


Burke December 20, 2009 at 11:00 am

I haven’t read the Heller book about Ayn Rand and don’t intend to. The reviews of it by other Objectivists are not favorable. It’s obvious she knows nothing about Rand’s philosophy and has adopted as fact accusations of her critics, many of which are known to be false by others.

Rand may or may not have had some personal difficulties, but her life was quite interesting and productive, hardly “troubled” as stated above.


Positively Present December 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Law of attraction… It really is amazing. Lately I’ve noticed so many things like this, things that I think a lot about and then somehow have more of in my life. I used to think that kind of thing was BS, but the more I experience it personally, the more I really believe that we attract what we think about. Great post!


John D. Buerger, CFP® December 20, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Here’s an experiment you can try. It will prove Stephen’s point:

The next time you are engaged in a group function (a game, business or family project), make a point to verbally praise every positive or constructive activity you observe. You’ll be amazed at how this changes everything.

When I’m not helping people make smarter choices with their money (I attention is the key there, too), I am an avid soccer player. During a recent pick-up game, with our side being handily beat for the first 30 minutes, I went into “supportive praise” mode. Every good pass got an “atta-boy” out of me, even from across the field. Same with shot attempts (even ones that were way off) or an effort by one player to support another in trouble. I even got to praising fellow players when they were talking constructively to each other.

The whole tide of the game changed within 10 minutes. The people didn’t change, just their attitudes … and their attention.
.-= John D. Buerger, CFP® ´s last blog ..Welcome – Why We’re Here =-.


Nea | Self Improvement Saga December 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Wonderfully well-written, Stephen. I just try to remind myself that paying attention to it is like asking for it. And I can notice things without focusing so much of my energy upon them. Like you said,our attention is valuable currency.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..Truth and Reality vs. Your Outlook and Perspective =-.


Steven December 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Brilliant post Stephen.

I’ve heard of the conspiracy that the American government is purposely lowering the intelligence of it’s citizens so that they may remain as an intellectual power without being questioned.

Nowadays the major news networks produce trivial events as if they were the end of the world. It seems that most people are more interested in Tiger Woods’ affairs than any important political, economical, or scientific situations.

I hope our civilization will smarten up as a whole and realize what is more important within all of us that is worth our time and our attention.

Thank you for bringing this up.
.-= Steven´s last blog ..Intellectual understanding Vs. Intuitive connection =-.


Vin - NaturalBias December 22, 2009 at 9:35 am

Hi Stephen,

Great article! I find it amazing how a series of thoughts on a particular subject can have such an influence. I think it’s an important thing to be aware of because if you don’t make an effort to recognize how your surroundings are influencing your thoughts, and in turn, your actions, then you’re making yourself more susceptible to the possibility of letting others dictate your life, especially those who intentionally take advantage of such situations.

Happy Holidays!
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..Is Your Diet Harming Your Character? =-.


john wunder ceo August 9, 2013 at 3:30 am

You can definitely call at your interest within the work you’re writing. The sector desires much more ardent authors as you who seem to may not be scared to say the way they imagine. On a regular basis follow a person’s cardiovascular system.


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