(This is Step One in Showing Up For Your Life, see the whole series here)
When you hear this term ‘pay attention’ You might think it means paying attention to the goodness and the wonderful things. That is important and worthwhile because the grass that grows is the grass we water.
But we also need to pay attention to the less fun things, the less satisfying things, the things that are still happening in the background for us.
We need to pay attention to things like:
our life- what is happening in it?
our emotions and thoughts
our behaviours and habits
our people and what is happening for them.
In order to ever make any meaningful change, you don’t just simply adjust your actions. You need to pay attention to what is happening in the first place.
You don’t just tear down a broken fence and build a new one without looking at the old one first and seeing where it crumbled and sagged and how stable the soil beneath is.
Assessing your thought life and observing your own feelings and habits is required so you know what you are dealing with.
Paying attention means simply watching, like a scientist gathering data or an artist assessing the lay of the landscape before they sketch it out.
After I had my second, Lenayah, I was experiencing lower back pain. I started doing yoga at home and they talk about the movements and where you should feel them and stretch into them.
I had to really focus and zone in. I was noticing areas that hurt and areas that were stiff. I never felt the tension and ache going about my daily life. I had never paid attention to how I was feeling in my legs or my hips or my shoulders.
And I realized I was so out of touch with my body
Around the same time, I had to start physio and the therapist told me I had shifted my posture from holding a baby on the same side all the time. If I looked in the mirror I could see my shoulders were different heights one higher up than the other – they shifted because my hips were constantly being held askew (that is such a good word, right?)
How did I not notice this happening? When it came to my body, I had my head down in all the demands of life and I wasn’t paying attention to my habits and my body.
WHEN WE DON’T PAY ATTENTION
It is like we aren’t watching the road signs, we are just driving and hope we get somewhere we like at the end.
We are living it all on autopilot.
We think the same thoughts,
Have the same reactions
The same conversations in our head
Keep the same stress habits
Do the same behaviours day in and day out
It is like a balloon slowly drifting up in the sky. Life is like that, we need to constantly get grounded again or we will end up in the sky wondering why we feel alone and how we will ever get back down again.
I used to tell myself I was a victim of this.
This is the payoff of not paying attention. We get to claim ignorance and take ourselves off the hook. We aren’t the one in the driver’s seat navigating the roads so we aren’t responsible.
Before we had our third baby, Dawson, things were tough in my house
Lenayah was about 1 and Levi was just over two
And I was so anxious and stressed and frazzled
I’ve shared this story before.
We were sitting at lunch one day. Levi was running around, Lenayah was throwing a tantrum and I was listing off all the things we had to do and when to Conor. I was like a drill sergeant.
Conor put down his sandwich and stared at me and said, with almost no expression on his face, ‘I miss you.’
Even now, thinking of that moment makes me emotional. It represents so many revelations for me.
The big one being, I missed me too.
I had left my life and didn’t even notice it. It happened slowly and quietly and I wasn’t paying attention.
If I was paying attention I would have noticed that
My marriage was suffering
That I was becoming a resentful parent
That I was parenting from a belief that this wasn’t fair and I couldn’t handle it and I needed someone else to it for me
If I was paying attention
I would have seen how my body was seizing up from stress and poor health choices
I would have seen that I was being self-involved instead of showing up better for my friends and family.
I would have seen that the woman with dreams and passions inside of me had grown quiet because I tuned her out so often.
The drift from others, the fade of ourselves, the diversion from the life we truly crave is happening step by step and day by day.
We close up and isolate, connection becomes hard
We tighten and harden, passion becomes quiet
We bury the old fence and build a new one on top. Intention is replaced with desperation
Over time, little by little, our life and relationships are shifting in one direction or another depending on what we pay attention to.
THIS IS WHY THE FIRST STEP IS TO PAY ATTENTION
We don’t even realize what is truly happening in our own hearts and minds and homes
Women come to me and they want to be coached on how to have more money, or have more friends, or be happier in their home, or be better at time management
We don’t just slap some goals on there and recite motivational affirmations.
First, we pay attention to how they got here and what is really happening.
So I give them homework.
Pay attention to how you spend your money – track it. It is something I’ve done over the years and it all made sense why I felt like we had no money, I saw where I was spending it
Pay attention to how you spend your time. You don’t have enough time because you aren’t aware of how you can use it better (see the simplify your life series)
Pay attention to how you show up in your home. What brings you tension, how do you act when you are stressed?
Most importantly pay attention to the stories you tell yourself. Stories about your spouse, about your friends, about your own capabilities,
Paying attention is the first step to taking your brain off autopilot
Because it uses a new part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex. Instead of the reactionary part, the flight/fight or freeze part of your brain that we are spending a lot of time in – it moves your thought processes from the stress response part of your brain to the rational part of your brain. The part that makes sense of things and makes effective decisions.
Pay attention with the goal of observing, not criticizing
When you start paying attention, I want to make sure you do it from a place of compassion and curiosity. You aren’t here to shame yourself or others. You are here to observe.
The way you might watch a fish in a fish tank. Without emotion and action attached to it. You are observing to see and learn what is happening.
You will see two things: facts and feelings.
Most of us mash these two together and call it our experience. But there is our actual experience, the facts, what actually happened. And there is the story we tell ourselves about it, the feeling, how it made us feel.
We try to change our life by addressing one without the other or keeping them mushed together. We need to see both clearly to truly address both of them.
We need CLARITY IN ORDER TO MAKE CHANGE.
Observing is getting clear on what is FACT and what is FEELING. It is removing the story we tell ourselves about the situation and just seeing the facts of the situation.
At first, we will see all the things we feel like we are doing wrong, or things that are hard and our brain will have a little tantrum that it just wants them resolved and fixed
Something I also experienced was I got super bummed about how I was handling my life. I put a lot of judgement and shame on myself – these feelings never lead to health and healing.
Some things you might feel as you pay attention to your thought life:
Judgement, shame, criticism, anger. You might not like what you are thinking. I have felt this in stories I told myself around my spouse or my parenting.
Pressure, stress, anxiety. You might feel this pressure to fix it and address it. This would be something you have always done, this is your reaction. So put that on hold and spend a little more time here going deeper into self-awareness before you swing into reaction mode.
Depressed, embarrassed, helpless. You might feel disappointed in the situation or helpless to fix it. Sometimes this causes us to ignore it, tune it out. Often it causes us to lash out at others for things that aren’t their fault because we are feeling gross inside. I call this emotional dumping.
I tell you that you might feel these things so that you can know they are a normal companion on the journey. You don’t have to wrestle with them, you can walk alongside them.
How do you know which areas of your life to pay attention to?
In the life on purpose workbook, I cover the nine areas of life: home, family, love, work, health, friendships/community, inner expression, outer expression and finances.
It is important to pay attention to all these areas because YOU are IN all these areas. They all make up you as a person and when one area feels weak, the balance shifts. Just like my motherhood was shaky and my health was affected which affected my marriage and so on. They are all interconnected and they all matter because you matter.
YOUR LIFE EVALUATION
I have made this simple quiz to help you quickly assess each of these nine areas of your life and narrow in on the one that you should focus on showing up for.