Does someone yelling “Attention” make you sit up straighter? Does it make your back straighten up? Your head lift up? If you are a band person, it probably makes you want to yell “ONE” or “UP” or something like that.
If someone is at attention, they are being still and focused on what they are being told to do or listening to instructions or waiting for the next thing to happen.
What about paying attention? You know… focusing on what is going on around you, listening, learning, and being ready to put it into action.
We pay attention to our Doctors: lose weight, exercise, eat right, take your medicine, don’t smoke, drink water, etc. (OK, some people probably don’t listen to their Drs. as much as they should, but we all know we should listen to them.)
We pay attention to teachers (or should) when we are students – either as children or even as adults attending a seminar or training event.
We pay attention to traffic signals and police officers and other things that will keep us safe and out of harms way.
We pay attention to our pets (or at least we try to) – when they need food, outside to pee/poop, need affection, or act ill. We care for them. Some people pay more attention to pets than they do to their loved ones. Maybe that is because pets don’t judge?
As parents, we pay attention to our children. Some parents pay better attention than others. As infants, we pay attention to their every cry and learn to decipher them to know if they are wet, hungry, bored or lonely. As toddlers, we pay attention to their increasing vocabulary and figure out what they are saying even if to others it seems like gibberish. As the children grow older we pay attention to their friends, their homework, their messy bedrooms, their TV viewing, their internet usage, their music, their after school activities… we pay attention to all of that. However, IMHO, it seems that usually only one parent pays attention to those details and the other just “goes along for the ride.” I’m not saying that is true in all families, and it may vary by child or age or even season of the year.
If we pay attention to our friends, what does that look like?
* It means that we know the kinds of things that they like to do. Maybe we like to do those things as well, maybe we don’t. But we know what they enjoy. We listen when they talk about it and encourage them in those endeavors. If we see something that relates to their activity, we might buy it for them, or make it, or tell them about it. For example: if your friend likes to go to the beach, whenever you see beachy things, you think of them and let them know that.
* It means that we know lots of their favorites – color, food, hobby, restaurant, style, music, etc. Again, when you know these things about your friend, you will think about them whenever you encounter one of their favorites. For example: if you know your friend likes making paper crafts and paper jewelry, when you see it being sold at Disney you might send a photo of it to them for them to be inspired.
* It means that we pay attention to their moods and feelings. If you are really good friends then you will know when an “I’m fine” is really a “today has been crap but thanks for asking” or an “I’m really fine, but I see you are not so I’m gonna focus on you instead.” If you pay attention to a friend, you will recognize emotions for what they are. You will be able to anticipate how they will react in different situations. By paying close attention to body language and facial expressions, and tonal inflections, you can learn a lot about people. You just have to pay attention to the whole person by looking at them, not just the words they say.
When we pay attention to people, we have to invest in them. We have to focus on someone other than ourselves. We have to determine that learning about that other person is important because they are important. We have to look for details and then remember them. If we are paying attention to someone, remembering those details should become second nature. If we are paying attention to someone then they will pay attention to us because they will know that we value them.
I am very good with details. I remember lots of things (sometimes to my own brain activity detriment). I can probably tell you some specific thing about many friends – what they like and would bring them to mind when I encounter it. Silly? Maybe? Paying attention? Yes.
Do I feel like people pay attention to me? Sometimes. Sometimes I feel invisible.
Do some people do a better job of paying attention than others? Of course.
Can you learn to pay attention better? I think you can. I think you just need to be deliberate and desire to pay attention to someone and you will. If you don’t really like someone, you aren’t going to care how they take their coffee, but for someone you care about you will know they like pumpkin spice latte’s from Starbucks. Or maybe pumpkin anything. Or maybe it is just knowing that March is a hard month because someone died that month. Or knowing that Mrs. Doubtfire is their favorite movie. Or that they are busiest at the beginning of the month and could use a pick-me-up every month at that time.
Paying attention and knowing these things is great. But you have to put it into action too. Just because you know someone’s favorite candy is Snickers doesn’t mean anything unless you every so often bring them one – but if you are truly paying attention, you won’t bring them one when you know they are trying to lose weight, so in that case, maybe you would just say, “Hey! I was gonna bring you a Snickers today, but I know you are watching your calories, so I got you these strawberries instead.” Action. Knowledge is good. But knowledge in action is better.
A good portion of the “paying attention” has to do with being focused, watching, and listening. Just like back in band….
When the whistle blew and the direction was shouted, we all stood still, we shut up, we listened, we focused, we watched for the signal to march. Too bad we don’t all walk around with whistles to alert people to when they should be paying attention to us…. oh wait! We should be paying attention at all times to our friends and family!