In my gym, there are promo pieces that are played over the loud speaker. One such tag line is, “What gets measured gets improved.” The message is designed to encourage the clientele to get body fat levels measured and, ultimately, be inspired – or, more likely, shocked – and, as a result, hire a personal trainer.

Actually, I like that tag line, but not for the reason intended. I think where we place our attention is a matter of serious consideration. Attention can be positive or negative. Like the old saying about children, any attention is better than no attention.

Just think of advertising. We remember the really awful, annoying, or squirmy commercials as well as the funny, heartwarming, and savvy ones. The Super Bowl commercials are a case in point. Those gilt-edged seconds are considered the ultimate prime-time spot to grab our attention.

Our modern life can feel like we are careening through space at break-neck speed. We are trying to hold on, reach our assorted destinations, and avoid crashing into the asteroids, meteorites, and space junk thrown into our personal planetary system. It’s quite the ride, and there are many grabby hands trying to get our attention, our energy, our time, and our dollars.

Years ago, I worked in a small company where the President had little patience. He was known to personally pound on the door of the ladies room to get to you faster. His assistants would leave messages on desks chairs that read, “Urgent, urgent, urgent.” No top of the desk would suffice; no single “urgent” would do. He wanted our full attention immediately, if not sooner.

It’s not easy being a free-floating entity in a jammed-packed cosmos that competes for one of your most precious resources, your attention. Are you in overload? Deficit? Or overwhelm? Do you find yourself scattered, paralyzed or laser-focused?

What might be some Rules of the Road for understanding and fine-tuning your attention?

1. Attention is a matter of personal choice.

I know that sounds like my flair for the obvious. It is, and choice drives our attention.

We often forget that we have choice; choice is the ultimate in personal power. Every day, on a regular basis, we get to choose where we will invest our energy, how we will spend our time and money, and how we will fulfill our needs.

Clearly, the world is chock-a-block with stimulus overload, but, unless you are incarcerated, for the most part you get to choose. Choose what art, movies, vistas that we will take in. We go to the market, and choose our basic food groups; we pick up a newspaper or log onto a computer and, once again, we choose where to attend and focus.

There is power in what we choose; there is power in where we place our attention. This applies to our internal worlds as well as our external worlds.

This makes me think of Victor Frankl, a German physician who survived four different concentration camps during World War II. Frankl reasoned that no one could take away his essence, destroy his inner world, and thinking mind. Frankl survived his experiences intact and, later, developed the psychological system of logotherapy. Frankl reminds me of some wise person’s saying, “A brave mind is always impregnable.”

And psychologist and author, James Hillman wrote, “Attention is the cardinal psychological virtue. On it depends perhaps the other cardinal virtues, for there can hardly be faith nor hope nor love nor anything unless it first receives attention.”

Attention is a choice, and it is our first choice.

2. Attention can be a form of readiness; attention can be form of procrastination.

This assertion dovetails on the fact that attention is a choice. We can choose to be ready to address something, such as our lack of physical fitness, by taking a walk. We can also choose to watch “Law and Order” television reruns instead of completing our school work. Either way, we have made a choice on how to expend our energy.

3. Attention can be surprising.

Psychologist, Carl G. Jung told us that whatever has remained unconscious comes to us as fate. In other words, those soul parts of us that had been ignored because we have been preoccupied, too busy, or too fearful to listen to our quiet voice or pay attention to the niggling itch of the body may make a startling appearance. It is somewhat like a jack-in-the-box of the psyche. Pop, goes your attention. You are now forced to look at something you had previously neglected or ignored.

These surprises can be uncomfortable, such as illness or financial disaster. They can also be fun, outrageous, and unexpected gifts from the gods.

The surprise factor is like a huge, red flag waving in the breeze; it says, “Notice me, notice me now.” What grabs our attention can be all manner of wonderful and consternating.

4. Attention requires consciousness.

That sentence seems reductive and more of that flair for the obvious, but here is what I mean:

If you are scattered, overwhelmed, and without personal direction, I suggest there are a few things happening at once.

First, you are being reactive to your environment. This is not said as judgment, but as a statement of fact. There are so many situations, crises, and conflagrations. It feels as if your only choice is to react and put out the fires; re-establish peace and stability; and stop the blood flow. Your attention is externally driven by circumstance. This happens, life does life.

Then, this outer-directed way of being becomes a habit pattern. You are accustomed to doing for others; they have grown to expect your capable hands and competent ways. However, in the process of aiding and abetting the processes of others, you have forgotten you. You have neglected to think about what it is that you need, desire, dream about, or aspire to.

Your attention requires course correction; back to home, back to you. Your attention requires conscious thought and conscious choice on your part.

5. Attention is a form of power.

Shamans have been teaching the concept of attention as power for centuries. Whether you call it chi, qi, or prana, energy is our life force. And attention is how we choose to direct to utlize our life force.

I like the research Herbert Benson from Harvard University did. He and his team studied Tibetan monks who can maintain their body temperature while shrouded in cold, wet sheets in freezing weather. In fact, the monks’ body heat warmed and, eventually, dried the sheets. Talk about attention.

We all have this resource; we all have this inherent power called attention to literally direct our lives. Perhaps, you might want to take a little time to evaluate how you spend your moments, minutes, days, and weeks of attention? More than likely, you have the potential to be more of a powerhouse than you ever imagined.

Author's Bio: 

Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is a psychologist, psychospiritual teacher, and channel, who likes looking at life with a big view finder. Her website is Copyright Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.