I would like to present you a very practical skill which can make your work and private life a bit more exciting. It should be primarily useful for people who deal with others during face to face meetings, presentations, conferences, etc. It is fairly easy to learn and it is based on flexible attention.
Flexible attention is the ability to alternate between narrow attention style (focused) and diffused attention style (broad) or to apply both at the same time. Narrowing makes us specific but requires dividing reality into smaller pieces (objects). Diffusing allows us to see the big picture and connect (immerse) with its elements.
For example, you can read and understand this text (narrow attention style) while staying aware of something more (diffused attention style) at the same time. Read the following text to experience what flexible attention feels like.
Can you become aware of space which is between you and the screen you are reading from now? Do not stop reading and become aware of space in front and around the screen at the same time. Keep reading, and notice sounds around you (maybe hum of the fridge, or birds singing outside the window). There is always something happening around us but when we narrow our attention we tend to cut it off form our awareness. Keep reading, stay aware of space and sounds and become aware of what your right hand is touching now. You can see now that you can understand what you are reading staying aware of a lot more than lines of text. You have just made your attention more flexible between narrow and diffused styles.
My attention is flexible when I consult my patients as a family doctor
One of the basic ‘tools’ in my profession is knowing how to communicate with people. The better you are at putting them at ease, letting them talk, and listening to their story, the more information you can collect and the better help you can offer. Most information comes with words and I used to rely on this, but since I learned that I can make my attention flexible I started reading body language as well.
I can talk to someone, focusing on words and what s/he says (narrow attention style), and I can stay aware of their whole bodies at the same time (diffuse attention style). I see eyes, hands, legs, face, and the whole body movements being fully engaged in a dynamic conversation. I am aware of changes in the tone of voice, I notice how they express themselves and how important is the problem. I am able to notice where they store feelings in their body and many other little things like the height of her dog, where the clock is in his kitchen, or whether she likes her neighbor.
When my attention is well diffused I can stay aware of his/her body and my body at the same time. For example, when I notice shaky hands I feel a tiny tension growing around my eyes. When someone is angry I feel my body tensing as a reaction to that. I am observing his/her body talking to my body and then my body reacting to this talk.
I can subsequently relax the tension in my body and I often see that their body follows. They calm down without any verbal encouragement from me.
The fact is that this ‘body to body’ conversation happens every time we talk to someone. However, we are not aware of it when we narrow our attention on a conversation only. It just happens to us. I found there is a lot space for improvement here and the only condition is – an ability to make my attention flexible.
After some time I started calling it an advanced body language, since I do not have to remember what crossed arms or frequent blinking means. I can fully control the whole situation and I can influence my patients – in a good way – using a lot more than only calming words.
You can try it anytime you are around other people
It also works when I observe other people. I become aware of space around these people and space between them and myself. It broadens my vision field and I clearly see their whole bodies and I feel what they really think. It gives me powerful insight and allows me to see a lot more about what is really happening.
You can try it today. Look at people around you and become aware of space around them and between them and yourself. Do it gently, softly, and do not rush yourself. You will notice your internal chatter quieting down and you will become aware of the whole scene at the same time. Then let it happen. You can practice my attention exercises if you want to make your attention more flexible first.
It is good to know that practicing flexible attention helps to develop skills like controlling physical pain, stopping panic attacks, reducing anxiety and enhancing a performance. You can have a good, long sleep every night, instant sense of calm whenever you want, and become a lot more creative.