The Simplest Way to Make Positive Changes – Shifting Your Awareness

focused attention

by Vlad Dolezal on February 25, 2013

In 1928, Elton Mayo tried measuring the effect of lighting levels on the productivity of factory workers.

He formed three groups. One with increased lighting levels, one with decreased lighting, and a control group with unchanged lighting. As expected, the group with increased lighting experienced a measurable increase in productivity. But lo and behold… the increase in productivity was matched almost equally by the other two groups!

The single biggest factor influencing the workers’ productivity was that someone paid attention to their efforts.

This applies not only to working with others, but crazily enough, even working with yourself.

The effects of focused attention

If you’ve been reading Alive With Passion for a while, you know that I love to track things in my own life.

I’ve tracked what I eat, my sleeping habits, what I spend money on (the brilliant folks subscribed to the Alive With Passion newsletter will know all about my latest experiment regarding that), or even how my optimism relates to my current mood.

I like running experiments like that because:

  • Keeping track lets you know what’s really happening (human memory loves to distort things more than a fuzzy cat looking through the event horizon of a black hole*)
  • If you know what’s really happening, you know where to make changes.
  • Even the simple fact of bringing attention to something is enough to start making positive changes.

And it’s this last point I want to talk about today. Simply shifting your attention is enough to start making changes.

Let’s try it right now.

Notice how you’re sitting. The position of your back and your shoulders. Any tension you might carry in your shoulders or your neck. How your lower back feels.

Simply notice all the parts of your body, particularly your back and shoulders, and “ask” them how they feel.

If that doesn’t make you shift around, relax tense muscles, or move in some other way, then you either just sat down, or you’re a yoga master with 24/7 perfect posture.

(As I was writing these last few paragraphs I did the exercise myself. It made me aware of my lower back being uncomfortable, so I stood up and stretched it for fifteen seconds. Much better!)

*I think the part of my brain in charge of making sure my analogies make sense is on vacation today.

Using your attention to make positive changes

The idea is simple. By bringing your attention to something for long enough, you will automatically start to correct anything that’s not quite right.

Here are a few specific ways to apply that:

  • Make yourself some kind of reminder to become aware of your back and shoulders while you’re at the computer
  • Make yourself a little note with a single word on it – “Breathe.” Put it somewhere where you see it a few times each day (say, your bathroom mirror) but not all the time, so that you don’t become accustomed to it. Every time you see it, become conscious of your breathing. (This will let you breathe deeper and more thoroughly.)
  • Track every single thing you eat and drink for two weeks.
  • Track the time of the starting and stopping point of everything you do for a week.

I will be attempting this last one sometime soon. (It’s called keeping a time log.)

Yes, it’s probably quite annoying to always carry around a notepad and a pen to keep track of every single thing you do. But I’m pretty sure it will bring great benefits by helping me understand exactly where all my time goes each day.

How about you? What area of your life would you like to be more conscious of?

How will you go about it?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky February 25, 2013 at 15:08

This post came to me at a time I think I needed to hear it. I have been feeling unhappy with some things in my life (or in myself), some of which (maybe most of which) are actually within my power to control, but for some reason I continue doing the same things and feeling dissatisfied with myself. As if wishing things were different was all it took. I need a different way to approach change. I am hopeful that shifting my attention and keeping track of what I’m doing will help me to be aware and stay motivated. I’m not sure though if I have too many things I want to keep track of: what I eat and drink, how much sleep I’m getting, what my mood is, what my automatic thoughts are, things I’m thankful for, how I spend my time each day…do you suggest narrowing my focus?

P.S. I don’t know what an event horizon is, but I liked the fuzzy cat. 🙂


Vlad Dolezal February 26, 2013 at 07:55

I’d suggest you narrow your focus a bit, Becky. It’s usually better to focus on one area, maybe two tops, at a time, because you have a limited amount of attention and energy. You can keep track of everything for a few days, but for long-lasting change, something is bound to come up that takes away your attention, and if you try to focus on everything, it will crumble like a house of dominoes.

By the way, if this simple awareness method doesn’t start bringing you big enough positive changes after a week or two, you can always try making a personal development plan. That approach takes a lot more thinking and effort up front, but it’s very effective:


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