I came across a sentence in a book I am reading now that stopped me in my tracks. Emily Freeman wrote in The Next Right Thing, “Pay attention to what you pay attention to.” Maybe it was just perfect timing, but her encouragement sparked my imagination. What do I pay attention to? As I thought more, I visualized the out-of-body experience people describe when they have a near-death experience. They float above themselves and see themselves as if from a distance. And so, I began to step outside of myself to observe what I pay attention to. The following is a list of questions that came to my mind from paying attention twice:
- Who am I paying attention to on social media? Why?
- Who am I reading?
- Who do I envy?
- What ads get my attention?
- What are the foods or drinks that lure me?
- Who am I admiring?
- Who is irritating me?
- What am I wanting to buy?
- What am I watching on TV?
- What is tempting me?
- What thought can I not let go of?
- What is making me anxious?
The thought behind paying attention twice is to observe ourselves from a distance without judgment. When we immediately beat ourselves up over a particular thought or temptation, we miss the opportunity to delve deeper and see what is going on at the second or third level. That is the level where change happens. The surface issue is the symptom. The problem is not that I am addicted to sweets, it is that I am living in such a way that I desperately need comfort food each night. The question is not so much “who do I envy?” but “why do I envy this person?” This is the value of paying attention to what we are paying attention to.
When we pay attention twice, we uncover a layer formerly hidden. That layer serves as a spotlight. It exposes deeper motivations, places of hurt, unspoken insecurities, and heartfelt desires. If we allow the light to shine on those places without quickly condemning ourselves, then we open up to understanding and healing.
My encouragement is twofold. First, take one or two questions off of the list above and sit with them for a while. When you observe in this way, what do you see in yourself? What do you learn? Where might you begin to grow? Second, begin to observe yourself from afar throughout the day. Pay attention to what you are paying attention to. Self-awareness is one of the most powerful tools for growth that we have. Paying attention twice may enable us to discover a few blind spots that are hidden at the second or third layer of our actions and motivations.