Theme of the year: ATTENTION - Live in Wonder


theme of the year - attention

Theme of the year: ATTENTION

With a flip of the calendar, I set a new theme of the year. One that helps to ensure I am aligning with my goals and ambitions. Last year, my focus word was EASE. This worked well for me on many occasions, in times where I felt stuck or frustrated and unsure of how to move forward. It was a chance to pause, reflect on the situation, and move on with greater ease and clarity.

As I discussed in last year’s post, I prefer not to set vague short-term goals, as they seem to get stuck in a feedback loop year after year. Instead, I choose one overall theme of the year which I can regularly check in with. Then, set a couple of tangible goals that I can achieve through taking baby steps, and a few measurable targets such as reading, educational, financial, or fitness.

Measurable goals

For instance, a measurable and achievable fitness goal could be attending 100x fitness classes in the year — averaging about twice per week. By starting out with something manageable, you can regularly check in with your progress and adjust accordingly. Who knows, you could even exceed that goal, simply by creating new routines and habits!

In 2018, I set a reading goal of 37 novels. The number was significant to me, and it was also one greater than my record of 36 books in one year. The main reason I set that goal was that I’d fallen out of the habit of reading, and had so many great books around me waiting to be read. Also, I find that reading fiction before going to sleep is a great way to clear my busy mind, a kind of resetting so that my brain isn’t trying to solve problems from the day or contemplating the day yet to come.

Before Christmas, I thought I wasn’t going to achieve my goal. But fortunately, as I’d taken a break over the Christmas to New Year period, I was able to catch up (with the help of a couple of borrowed Agatha Christie novels). 37/37 achievement unlocked.

This year, I certainly will not be trying to supersede that goal. I now have a creative writing project which is taking up a lot of my reading time. In fact, I started the year by reaching 20,000 words in my novel! And I enjoyed writing every single word of it. I reckon I’m about 25% through my first draft. As for this year’s reading target, I have decided on 19 novels. One down, eighteen to go.

So, for 2019, my focus word of the year is… drumroll please… (it’s in the post title)… ATTENTION.

Giving attention

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

– Stephen R. Covey

In conversation, I’ve been trying hard to truly focus on what people are saying. Too often, I find myself being caught up in external distractions or my own insecurities.

A classic example is when I shake someone’s hand, I am so caught up in my own awkwardness ( I went in too forcefully. Is my hand sweaty? My hand is so much bigger than hers. Am I squeezing too tight?) that I don’t hear them introduce their name, or it’s immediately forgotten.

Sometimes, I find that my visual receptors seem to almost cancel out my audio receptors! i.e. If I think the person has lovely coloured eyes I seem to focus in on that and the words are lost! Surely I’m not alone in this??

It’s also easy to spend listening time trying to form my own response in my mind. Thinking about how I want to contribute to the conversation, or recalling my own similar relevant experience.

It’s time to give others my full attention.

Paying attention

This blog post is basically all about me revealing my own social awkwardness.

I make a lot of minor mistakes. I’m not alone, right? Guys? Guys?

I smack things (and people) with expressive hand gestures. I’m not paying attention to my surroundings. I leave things at home. I leave things at the gym. I’m not paying attention to what I’m carrying. I rush because I haven’t allowed enough time to get ready. I wasn’t paying attention to the time. My water bottle spilt all over a book I’d borrowed because I didn’t close the cap properly. My laptop fell onto concrete when I picked up the case awkwardly. I’m not paying attention.

It’s time to pay attention.

Inward attention

This year, I’d like to internalise my attention by listening to my own intuition and observing my body’s messages. By responding appropriately, this will go a long way to maintaining both mental and physical wellness.

It’s time to pay attention to my thoughts, body, and intuition.

Sustained attention

This is a method that I already practice in my job, with my time being divided between Graphic Design and Yoga Teaching. In order to get anything done, I need sustained time with undivided attention. Also known as “deep work” (a term coined by Cal Newport). Learn more in this interview I did a few years back (an updated version is due, but much is still relevant).

I’ve made some further changes to my schedule to try and give even more division between these two aspects of my work, plus personal creative endeavours, with the goal of being more focussed and productive.

It’s also important to me to ensure that my attention is focussed on the right thing. My content diet — What I watch, read, and listen to. My social media diet. Daily tasks, the people I engage with, the jobs I accept… and so on.

It’s time to focus my attention. And, speaking of that…

Focussed attention versus full awareness

There are different levels of attention, along a spectrum from complete concentration on one end to open awareness at the other end.

Often we need to focus our attention on the task at hand — the person speaking to us; the email we are composing; the car we are driving behind. But life is not totally this myopic. There can be a happy balance between focussed attention and maintaining awareness of our surroundings. It could even be an exercise of toggling between the two.

Choosing where to offer our attention comes from knowing when to ignore external distractions, when to filter certain stimuli, and when to stay open and receptive to the entire experience.

On a side note, I have created this meditation which explores a Field of Awareness.

This is what I’m asking myself in 2019:

Where is my attention in this moment?

It’s not just energy that flows where attention goes. Neural networks grow where attention goes. Change your focus, change your brain.

– Neil Strauss

Your theme of the year

What would be your focus word for 2019? I’d love to hear about it — please comment below!

If you’re having trouble coming up with a theme of the year, try brainstorming a list of words that are meaningful and relevant to you. Centring them around concepts that don’t flow easily to you, can create something to work towards. Perhaps you already have clear goals and intentions in mind, so this theme word could help you to stay the course.

Theme of the year podcast GTD

Here’s a great resource if you need more ideas. The link below is a podcast with David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. He has excellent insights for becoming more intentional in your life and work.


Alissa Smith

Alissa is a yoga teacher, graphic designer, and creative writer based in Auckland, New Zealand.

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