At all times you are moving your attention from one thing to the next–the itch on your forehead, then the bird cawing outside, then on a thought about a difficult conversation that needs to happen with your partner leading to another on how good those tacos were yesterday. This roaming beacon that goes from your body to the outside world to your thoughts is your most valuable asset. Most people would say time or money, but I would argue those are secondary as they are both easily increased by harnessing attention.
95% of thoughts are repetitive
A study done in 2005 by the National Science Foundation found that 95% of our thoughts are repetitive. That means that for much of the day, we are wasting brain power thinking the same stagnant, unproductive thoughts we ruminated on yesterday and the day before. It's not in the study, but the same can most likely be said for our actions which are the products of our thoughts. When attention is in a flow state, which is to say it is moving in a singular direction with purpose, there is little that can't be accomplished in a very short amount of time. The trick is getting into that state and staying there.
Why is it so hard?
It's ironic that I'm writing an article on attention after I just witnessed myself decide to sit down to write, then get a granola snack, send a couple emails, go on eBay for an L.O.L. doll my daughter lost and is distraught about, then go back to the kitchen for just a little bit more granola. It's been a hectic day of being on my own with two sick kids plus a baby and no chance to meditate, so my attention is more fragmented than normal with stress-induced behaviors. Stress is like interference to our attention. Imagine trying to listen to a song on a radio station that's going out of range or trying to watch a show on a scrambled cable channel. This is your brain on stress. Most everyone who lives in modern society has years of stress stored in their tissues that continually cause their minds to dart around and their actions to be inefficient.
Attention is what creates our reality
Because our minds are leaking attention all the time due to stress, it can be difficult to manifest the lives we'd like to create for ourselves. We live in a Quantum universe which means where our attention goes, grows. Don't water the weeds. When your mind is constantly worrying or thinking negative thoughts, you are giving fresh fuel to that negativity and it will find ways of entering your life.
How to harness attention
The tricky thing about attention is we don't always realize when we're distracted while we are distracted. And stress has a crafty way of sending the mind forward to worry about the future and backwards to regret or reframe the past, pulling us out of the present where joy, true experience and innovation exist. The only way to become a master of attention is to purify the mind and body of stress, eventually eliminating the interference. Meditation is by far the best way to reduce stress (Vedic Meditation being the best form of meditation for this purpose). Other things people do for stress release, like running or knitting, etc, do not go even close to deep enough to make any real difference on this front. You can try mindfulness practices, but without purifying the physiology with meditation, it's like trying to run new software on old hardware.
Soma Bandits (or Attention Seekers)
The Sanskrit word "soma" refers to attention as well as a drink of the Gods similar to ambrosia. There is a phrase used by some who study meditation called a "Soma Bandit," or someone who steals your "soma" or attention. People thrive on attention. We all wish to be seen and heard. Relationships that are healthy have a exchange of positive attention. There are some who are so encumbered by stress they are unable to give attention but will try and nourish themselves with the attention of others. It is rare having people like this in your life is relevant and is usually best to avoid them and send them love from afar.
Attention on Nature
It may sound a little woo woo, but nature loves attention. The more you admire the layers and depths of its beauty, the more it will enliven and put on a show. Whenever you find your attention keeps going to negative subjects, and you are unable to meditate, go outside and place your attention on nature. It will pull you out of the small wave of your ego and into the calming ocean of everything that is.
Where most of my attention goes–to these three adorable Soma Bandits.