Attention, attention, what has my attention?

6 May

I took a speed awareness course the other day. Like everyone else on it, I had been caught going a few miles over the limit, so I paid the 91 quid and took the course to avoid getting three points on my license.

It was actually interesting and illuminating. Not only the bit where we found out how much longer it takes your car to stop if you are travelling at 31 miles per hour than at 30 if you have to brake suddenly – scary – but the bit where I realised how many distractions can get in the way of giving proper attention to the road while driving.

I am not talking about the illegal things like talking on your phone, but just having an animated conversation with a passenger, or running through what your day is going to be like in your head while negotiating the morning rush, or being irritated by whining toddlers in the back…

I am currently reading a book by Ruby Wax called ‘A Mindfulness Guide for the FRAZZLED’. Terrific book. I have just started reading it and am currently in the section about “attention” and being in control of what you give your attention to at the time.

She quotes Dr. Daniel Siegal, who combines brain science with psychotherapy, giving his definition of attention. He says, “Focussed attention helps us to see the internal workings of our own minds; to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them; to redirect our thought and feelings rather than being driven by them. Paying attention enables us to get off autopilot and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we can trap ourselves in.” Wow.

To attend (to the road or your main activity) and be able to direct our thoughts where they should be, rather than being hijacked by our thinking mind or derailed by emotion. It is not to talk about being exclusively “in the zone” and totally at one with a single thing that you are focussing on. There are times for that. That important presentation, for example. While driving, there has to be an awareness of what is happening in the car as well as giving strong attention to the road outside.

It is perfectly possible and often advisable to be doing two things at the same time I say – but really only if one of them doesn’t require much brainpower or conscious thought. Not a good plan to be working on your computer while taking a call on your phone, because these are two things you need to give full attention to at the same time.

A domestic example:  I have observed my daughter breastfeeding her baby son on one breast, while she is pumping on the other one to get out milk for a feed he can take from a bottle later. Very neat, I thought. Her son doesn’t mind, he is blissfully sucking away giving his full attention to the matter in hand, while the hand pump is plugged in and doing its job extracting the baby nectar with no thinking attention required from my daughter, her hand repetitively squeezing.

So I am going to sharpen up my attention when driving, and reject the wandering thoughts that I will admit can sometimes invade my headspace. Everything you take into the room, as well as in the car, affects your behaviour. In terms of speaking, if you take intrusive thoughts in with you when you are speaking, your audience’s perception of you and what you are saying will be dis-coloured by it.

Food for thought.

Control your attention.

Be free of intrusion.

To find out more about Fiona’s training workshops or coaching to help you improve your communication skills, as well as your focus and emotional control, do contact her on and ask for details.

Fiona Whytehead
By Fiona Whytehead

Founder and Director, Locus Coaching

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Fiona Whytehead
By Fiona Whytehead

Founder and Director, Locus Coaching

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