I would like to present you a very practical skill which can make your work – and private life – a bit more exciting. It is fairly easy to learn and it is based on a flexible attention. It should be primarily useful for people who deal with others during face to face meetings, presentations, conferences, etc…
First, try a simple exercise which will give you a taste of what a flexible attention feels like.
Can you become aware of space which is between you and the screen you are reading from now? Do it now, please. Keep reading and become aware of spaces between these words and spaces between lines of words? Do not stop reading and become aware of space in front and around the screen at the same time. There is also some space behind the screen. Become aware of it and feel your shoulders gently dropping now. Become aware of space on both sides of you. There is a lot of space around us all the time but we tend to ignore it. Stay aware of space on both sides of you and become aware of space below and above you. Feel muscles around your eyes gently relaxing. Stay aware of space and keep reading.
This is a simple exercise I learned some time ago. As you see, it is quite easy to blend the narrow and the diffuse attention styles. You can narrow your attention on words you are reading now and you can gently diffuse your attention staying aware of space at the same time. You can read and understand the text while staying aware of something more than the text only. It benefits your physiology making it more balanced and it releases tension stored in various parts of your body. It was a simple example of how flexible attention can be useful when you read something not requiring your full attention (say, a morning paper on the train to work).
I use the same skill working as a family doctor and seeing my patients.
One of the basic ‘tools’ in my profession is knowing how to communicate with people. The better you are at putting them at ease, letting them talk and listening to their story, the more information you can collect and the better help you can offer. Most of information comes with words and I used to rely on this channel but since I discovered Open Focus I started reading a body language. This is thanks to the ability of making my attention flexible.
I can talk to someone focusing on words and what s/he says (the narrow attention style) and I can stay aware of their whole bodies at the same time (the diffuse attention style). I see eyes, hands, legs, face and the whole body movements being fully engaged in a dynamic conversation. I am aware of changes in the tone of voice, I notice how they express themselves and how important is the problem. I am able to notice where they store feelings in their body and many other little things like the high of his dog, where the clock in his kitchen is or whether she likes her neighbor.
When my attention is well diffused I can stay aware of his/her body and my body at the same time. For example, when I notice shaky hands I feel a tiny tension growing around my eyes. When someone is angry I feel my body tensing as a reaction to that. I am observing his/her body talking to my body and then my body reacting to this talk.
I can subsequently relax the tension in my body and I often see that their body follows. They calm down without any verbal encouragement from me.
The fact is that this ‘body to body’ conversation happens every time we talk to someone. However, we are not aware of it. It just happens to us. I found there is a lot space for improvement here and the only condition is – you need to practice flexible attention. After some time I started calling it an advanced body language since I do not have to remember what crossed arms or frequent blinking means. I can fully control the whole situation and I can influence my patients – in a good way – using a lot more than only calming words.
You can try it anytime you are around other people.
It also works when I observe other people. I become aware of space around these people and space between them and myself. It broadens my vision field and I clearly see their whole bodies and I feel what they really think. It gives me a good insight and I know a lot more about what is really happening.
You can try it today. Look at people around you and become aware of space around them and between them and yourself. Do it gently, softly and do not rush yourself. You will notice your internal chatter quieting down and you will become aware of the whole scene at the same time. Then let it happen.
Try a free Open Focus exercise and feel for yourself how diffusing attention feels.
Flexible attention is an ability to alternate between narrow attention (focused) and diffused attention (broad) or to apply both at the same time.
Narrowing makes us specific but requires dividing reality into smaller pieces (objects). Diffusing allows us to see the big picture and connect (immerse) with its elements.
Pain, anxiety and problems make the attention narrow and objective. We can self help ourselves by diffusing and immersing our attention.