One of the personal resources that’s easy to take for granted is attention. That is, what you’re looking at or thinking about at a given moment. And in today’s information age, attention is a valuable resource. Marketers are constantly trying to grab your notice through commercials, billboards, pop-up ads, and product placement. The research on attention is actually pretty cool. Some of my favorite findings are:
- Babies use their attention (where they are looking or if they are looking) to help regulate (control) themselves. Ever see a baby fall asleep in a really noisy place? They are overwhelmed with stimulation and sleep is a way to control that. So is looking away from that loud stranger who has gotten too close.
- The key problem in ADHD is that children can’t keep their attention from being distracted. This is known as “inhibition.” Whereas children without ADHD are able to ignore distractions, like someone coming into their classroom or a noise going on in the other room, a child with ADHD can’t help but react. Even if that means they get in trouble!
- When we learn something new like driving, reading, or tying shoes, our attention is fully focused. We can’t do anything else. Likewise, when we do something challenging, like driving in traffic, reading in fuzzy font, or figuring out our new Smartphone, our attention is fully focused–and again, we can’t do anything else.
- Learning something new is often frustrating. When learning a new task, people’s thoughts and attention tend to be negative. E.g., “I don’t like this,” “This is hard,” “I’m never going to get this,” and other downers like that. But the cool part is, the better you get at the task, the less likely you are to have those negative thoughts. The key is to make it past that first, tough part.
- Just like babies, children and adults can refocus their attention to regulate or improve their mood. If their friend takes away a toy, a 5-year-old who immediately finds a new toy to happily play with is going to have less trouble in kindergarten than a 5-year-old who strikes out and becomes angry. Likewise, an adult who can “focus on the positive” (ick-phrase, but true) after a setback has better mental health.
Last night, at Torn Space Theater’s surreal production of They Kill Things, I used my attention to regulate my fear. There were lots of creepy situations, and in an everyday environment, I would have freaked out if a bulky masked man walked up to me and looked closely at my hands. Or if a group of masked maidens dressed in white rags wrapped a May pole while chanting.
But I was in Silo City, a converted industrial site. The environment was so amazing and so different from anything I’d ever experienced, that I could move on from feeling scared immediately, simply by refocusing my attention on something else.
Obviously there are times when it won’t work to refocus attention. There are plenty of situations that demand your full attention, for safety, or learning an important lesson, for example. But awareness of attention as a resource has definitely helped me in certain situations. Even outdoor interactive theater productions.
Below is the text of an email I sent this afternoon to a local Comcast Sales Executive. Unbeknownst to him, he was getting me on a loquacious and socially responsible sort of day.
Dear Mr. X,
Today you stopped by my place on Robertson Avenue to ask why I don’t use Comcast. I was certainly honest which I feel is the best policy but can understand the difficulty of listening to someone say negative things about your employer or company. You were polite and kind and I thank you for that.
When I give feedback I usually try to come up with some positive directions for the future. And because I sense that you have some influence, at least locally, I would like to add something to my response.
First, I don’t think large companies are inherently bad. But I think that the larger the company, the greater the social responsibility to the world and community. I would be impressed and likely to consider returning to Comcast if I were to learn of:
– meaningful (large) donations to local charity or non-profits, or even other countries in need of services. We are such a rich nation and Comcast is an extremely wealthy company. Is it possible for some of their profits (or more than are currently spread around) to be distributed to those in need?
– more flexibility to personalize and customize packages. i don’t watch television – for me most programs are psychologically toxic – and don’t want to pay for it. but the best deals on internet require a TV package. this seems unfair.
– an explanation of what the costs are for in my monthly bill. to the level of detail such as, how much is going to the CEOs salary, how much is going to the servicemen and women and dedicated local staff such as yourself, how much is going to tech maintenance. I don’t want to say “internet is too expensive” without knowing for sure how much it costs. but i’m not interested in putting money in the pocket of the Comcast CEOs either.
For the record, I don’t think CenturyLink is that great, and may have a worse record in some areas than Comcast. I really haven’t done my homework. But for me, it was a choice of the lesser of two evils.
I thank you again for tolerating my candidness. I honestly hope I’ve reached you on a personal level -beyond the level that I’m a potential customer and you’re an employee of Comcast. I believe we’re here in this world to help each other and I believe honesty and generosity are important parts of that.
Bottom line is, I think large corporations, like Comcast and many others, could do more to add to the good in the world than they are currently doing. And as their representative, I entrust you with communicating this up the chain, with the hope that it reaches a CEO somewhere with a big heart.
All the best,