I am at the airport, in conversation with a man who is deaf. He is speaking, and I’m struggling to understand his speech. I’m distracted. My flight will board soon, and I’ve injured my knee, so I’ll need extra time to board and don’t want to miss the announcement.
He is telling me that he is going to see his 95 year old mother. I notice my distraction and make a decision to shift into paying full attention to this man who seems so interested in social contact. Over the years, I’ve come up with a simple tool to help me tune in to a conversation when I might otherwise be distracted.
I look at the man, noticing his eyes, his facial expressions, his gestures, and his strong desire to connect. I start noticing what I like about this man. As I do this, everything in the background falls away, and I see and hear him. He is an acupuncturist. He loves his mother who is very frail. He struggles with back pain and will also be boarding early.
Before I started using this tool of noticing what I like about a person with whom I’m in conversation, when I felt distracted, my Bossy Mind would direct my distracted mind to FOCUS! This process didn’t bring me into the moment, and into connection, in the same sweet way as noticing what I liked. Bossy Mind nearly always made me feel more anxious and more distracted.
Have you noticed that Bossy Mind is directing the current conversation about attention? “I’m distracted! I’ll never get it all done! I’m addicted to my phone!” This is Bossy Mind talk. Those newspaper headlines announcing: Addicted to Distraction; that’s Global Bossy Mind talking.
Attention, emotion, and breathing are very strongly related. When Bossy Mind owns the conversation and takes us into fear: “I’ll never get it done;” and distraction: “Why have you started ten emails and finished NO emails?!,” our breathing often becomes much shallower. When Bossy Mind revs up its internal dialog, the negativity and judgment often prompts negative emotions, making it more challenging for us focus and attend.
If athletes had a steady stream of Bossy Mind telling them they were distracted, needed to go faster, needed to focus, they would lose the race, drop the ball, and lose the game.
It turns out that with positive emotions, liking and loving, our breathing slows and can become deeper. Further, feelings of gratitude, felt in the whole body — embodied gratitude – can also slow and deepen our breathing, and bring our attention back to the present moment.
I used to think Bossy Mind, the wizard of distraction and overwhelm in my head, needed to be killed, or, at least silenced. Instead of raising a sword to slay Bossy Mind — because I guarantee you, Bossy Mind has a much bigger sword than you have – just, graciously, give Bossy Mind a seat at the table, then gently turn your attention in the direction of the noticing exercise below.
There is a Bossy Mind in every one of us. It needs a seat at the table and it will demand a seat whether you like it or not. But it does not need to be dancing ON the table, stealing the show. Making peace with Bossy Mind is a step toward being an “Attention Genius.”
Here are some things to notice when Bossy Mind is trying to take over:
- Notice what you like about another person, about your day, or about where you are.
- Notice beauty around you.
- Notice how you are safe.
- Notice the way your feet feel on the floor, the way the chair supporting you feels.
This might take 10 seconds. It might take a minute.
Bossy Mind is the Frito Bandito, the Hamburglar of our Attention. Bossy Mind is also part of who we are, and in accepting that graciously, and turning toward our liking, loving, appreciating, safe selves, our attention is ours to channel as we choose.