We can make time, buy time, and find time. But not attention.
That’s because attention is the currency of human experience. Our lives are a series of experiences – and for each experience we have to pay attention. Once spent, we cannot get any more.
And just like money, the way we spend our attention determines the value we receive from it. When we divide it, we dilute it. When we focus it, we magnify its impact significantly.
Some research has found that productivity can be enhanced by up to 500% in times of peak attentional focus, or flow. And other studies have shown that the simple presence of a mobile phone on a desk– even when it’s turned off – siphons away a small amount of attention; significantly reducing cognitive performance.
When we reflect on our day or year or life, we are doing nothing more than looking back on what we paid attention to. Attention is a finite, non-renewable resource. It is the most valuable resource we will ever possess. That’s why so many companies and people want it. And that’s why we must not waste it.
In 1971, the Nobel Prize winning, American Political Scientist, Herbert A. Simon wrote: “In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”
The students in our schools now are exposed to at least five times the amount of data that most of their teachers were at their age. Unfortunately, humans have a very small, limited attentional capacity, so all of that additional data is being filtered and processed by the same finite resource. It’s no wonder that our students, and we alike, feel overloaded. Our attention, our conscious experience, is being consumed by a tsunami of data.
So, two of the most important skills that we should be allowing our students to learn and practise are: how to allocate attention effectively, and how to sustain attention on what really matters. This is why mindfulness-based meditation is beginning to become an essential part of many teachers’ toolkits.
Mindfulness is about choosing to pay and sustain attention with openness, curiosity, and flexibility. When practiced, mindfulness can be an antidote to overload.
What an incredible advantage we are gifting our students if we empower them with this skill – the ability to sift through the noise and to hone in on what matters. Mindfulness is much, much more than a nice thing to do in schools. It is a must.