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Paying With Your Attention 

 July 2, 2021

By  Jonathan Nhan

Your attention may be more valuable than you realize. This pandemic drags on and on, and there have been so many starts and stops. This rollercoaster definitely affects our mental health, sometimes in ways that we don’t even realize. There are many components to effectively manage our mental health, and it’s possible to take back control, even in situations where it feels like we have none. A great place to start is thinking about attention. 

You’ve likely heard and used the phrase “Pay attention” without a second thought. Consider this short phrase and it’s meaning. If you are paying with attention, then it must have an intrinsic value that is being exchanged for something in return. I’ll offer you an interpretation: you are paying with your attention in exchange for an experience of the world around you. Where you focus your attention will inform your experience. 

Think about the car that you drive. You place your attention onto the make and model of your car because you need to know you are stepping into the right car. The resultant experience is that you notice other cars of the same make and model more easily. There aren’t necessarily more people driving the same model car, your attention has been paid towards collecting this experience. Of course this all happens unconsciously, without you having to think about it. 

Now let’s look at the pandemic, and see how we are spending our attention. You may have paid attention towards news stories and the media – how has this informed your experience? Take a moment and step out of your current experience and ask yourself, are there other things that I could pay my attention towards to receive a better experience? If your attention were like dollars in your wallet and you had to pay for your experiences, would that change what you spend it on? 

You control your attention. When you direct your attention and choose your focus, you change your experience. One of the most practical ways of directing your attention is to ask yourself better questions. Rather than “why” questions, ask yourself “what” or “how” questions. You’ll find these are much more empowering. What is one thing that you could put your attention towards now that would make you feel appreciative or grateful? I have found that focusing on appreciation and gratitude is a great way to re-balance and re-centre. We’re thrown off centre by stress and events that pull our attention. 

When we choose to pay attention to moments of appreciation or gratitude, we can balance off that stress. Much like physical momentum, our thoughts and moods carry their own momentum. Start small and begin to invest your attention wisely into the experiences that you want to have more of. Life is like the rhythmic swing of the pendulum; there will always be ups and downs but we can take comfort in knowing that we can exert control over this swing by spending our attention wisely. 

Jonathan Nhan


Jon is passionate about making positive, long lasting changes and opening minds.

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