Attention and Intention

Dr. Jamie Ho is a low vision and neuro-rehabilitation optometrist in the Nashville area and one of the brightest people I know. She once instructed me to take breaks from writing, to step back from close-up work at the computer and relax my visual attention by gazing at objects far away. That wise prescription came at a time when my eyes had been blurring from many hours of daily writing. Looking at a screen inches away required more effort and coordination than gazing at a distance. Dr. Ho understands ADHD and has helped children with attention disorders through visual training. What she knows about visual attention applies to attention in general. We can practice directing our attention with intention.  

Here’s one example. Getting started on dreaded tasks can seem difficult, and we avoid them. We would rather be in a focused state with stimulating activity than in an open state with a less preferred task. To start and sustain effort on dreaded tasks is easier than you think. Dreading may be the only problem. 

Most dreaded tasks require little selective attention, meaning we can relax when we do them. Think of them as a break, allowing you to disengage from the close-up picture and relax into a bigger and softer picture. With softer attention, you will be more aware of other priorities, time, people, your pets, and your physical space. As a bonus, you will appear less selfish to your partner. You can engage in dreaded tasks with ease, listening to your favorite music or remaining silent to be aware of your negative thoughts. When you color your tasks black, they will be dark. They will be lighter when you lighten up. 

 What comprises a dreaded task anyway? Is it one that takes you away from a preferred activity? Don’t you just love to be intensely focused on your favorite things? Me too! I can deny, as easily as any adult with ADHD, that I need breaks from intense focus (In fact, I need one now, and I’m going to walk my dog in fifteen minutes). 

Dreaded tasks may actually require less effort than stimulating tasks, but we continue believing they’re harder and take more time than they do. When we learn to see such notions as the mindless thoughts they are, it’s easier to redirect our attention. Then we can seamlessly tackle them and get them done more quickly. Dreading wastes time and consumes energy.

One way to break through your illusions is by training your brain through meditation. When you’re too close to your habitual thoughts (they’re right there in your brain), you don’t see them.  Your head is under water where you see nothing but what’s near your face. When habitual thoughts take the lead, you mindlessly follow them. I’ve done that more often than I wish to admit. On the other hand, when you relax and step back from your thoughts, you can let them be. No effort is required in letting them be. Relaxing is easier than trying. You don’t have to try not to have…or try not to believe…your thoughts. Seeing them and lightening up is enough. As always, I welcome your comments. 

In my August 20 meditation workshop for adults with ADHD and anxiety, we will discuss and practice alternatives to your habitual thinking that limits your potential to live with wise effort and mindful intention.  

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