Why We Do Not Pay Attention, And How To

The cause of many mistakes and arguments is due to a lack of attention to instructions, or the conversation. This is a frustrating problem because most people are reasonably intelligent and can focus or appear to focus on a conversation well enough, yet too many vital bits of information are often missed causing a lot of problems. This article is about my theory of the cause, and a method to correct this problem in the pursuit of self-improvement.

To present my theory, I must explain a few foundation principles. Every child wants to be acknowledged, and every parent knows this as the stage called; ‘The terrible two’s”. Everyone knows about Einstein, but how many know about him for his sense of humor or the way he decorated his house? Yet, how many know about him because of E=Mc2.

We are known only for our special achievements, and so every human at one point, wants to be special, achieve something unique and by that become famous and eternal in the memory of what they did.

Along with this natural need, we also have parents who stifle that need right from the beginning. We are not allowed to choose for ourselves as children. Rightly so or we would eat ice cream for every meal, and this is the problem. We are not able to make wise decisions at the time when our need for acknowledgement is developing, and so we grow in conflict to our circumstances.

As we get older and are allowed and encouraged to think for ourselves, something that we had been told since birth that we could not and should not do, we try to use a faculty that is very defective due to the distortions of our upbringing. When we are developing the awareness of our individuality, we are moulded into someone else by our parents, religion, country, etc. The natural instinct of cultivating our individuality is severely damaged by the way children are raised.

When the time comes that we need to use this faculty of inventive creativity, it is so broken that it either cannot function or malfunctions and we make mistakes. Mistakes are fine if we learn from them, so I am not concerned in this article about making mistakes per se, rather I am looking at why some people make repeated mistakes due to a lack of paying attention. Here, we are discussing the ability to pay attention and maintain mental focus.

If we have a natural desire to be creative, but due to our upbringing, parents doing everything for us, telling us what to think etc, the ability to fulfill this desire effectively is stunted. The desire does not go away, it continues to drive us, but the results are as messed up as the desire.

The mind is like a wild horse. For this article, I use the word ‘mind’ to describe whatever that thing is that is thinking, or wandering or day-dreaming. The mind is different than the rider of the horse, the part of you which is only randomly conscious. You may notice that there are moments when you realize you are asleep, or day-dreaming. That moment is when the rider is awake and sees that the horse has run away with him on it. The problem is that the rider should guide the horse, but normally, it is the horse which takes the rider where the horse wants to go.

With this foundation of the principles, let’s take a common situation to present my theory. You are being given instructions to do a certain task at work. Your boss calls you over and starts explaining a series of steps that must be taken. The rider guides the horse to the boss and is listening attentively. After the first minute or two, the horse thinks it knows what to do and is already planning on the way it will change or accomplish the task so it gets acknowledgment and credit for being so inventive, and it runs off.

Your body stays there, nodding its head appearing to be paying attention, but your mind is off dreaming about what it will do, and thus not listening to the instructions.

Unfortunately, the horse has left and taken the rider with it long before all the vital details have been given, such as; “Cut the red wire, AFTER you cut the blue one.” The horse heard to cut the red wire, thinks it knows it all, rushes off to show how smart it is, the rider does what it thinks it heard, and the bomb explodes.

How To Fix The Problem

The exercise is to force yourself to pay full attention to every detail and follow instructions as they are given. If you think you can do something better than instructed, check your ideas with the boss first. Do not deviate from the directions, and if you forget anything, ask again, but put in more effort to remember, or take notes that you refer to so you stay on track.

Learning to pay attention is no different than breaking in a wild horse. The horse wants to run anywhere it wants, but the trainer must force it to stay where it is or go where the trainer wants it to go. Eventually, horse or dog, learns to pay attention and responds to commands.

Your mind must be trained, but you must first accept that you are not in control of your mind and then learn how to gain control. The method is so repulsive to adults who think themselves grown ups, that we ignore and refuse to do it. It is simply by returning to the stage of a child and doing what you are told without changing anything.

The wonderful thing about this training is that it can be done constantly. Every moment of your life is an opportunity to follow instructions on how to use your computer, the TV, drive a car according to the laws, learn Yoga, meditate, go to the store and pay for what you buy instead of just taking what you want and walking out.

The one difference is to be aware that you are training your mind to follow instructions and in order to do that it must pay full attention to the details.

From a spiritual or religious point of view, this is called developing humility. It is quite interesting really how religion, as dogmatic as it is, if used correctly, is a method of mental development and increasing your intelligence, along with the natural benefits of a more successful personal and business life.

It is being humble enough to know that you do not know, to remove fixed opinions which form faster than the speed of light, and to pay attention to even the simplest instructions so you get all the finer details.

How many conversations have you had which have later become arguments because you missed something that was said. All because you were not paying attention, being bored thinking you know all this already or, this is so simple a child could do it. Then you later find out you are not even as smart as a child.

Have you had enough of this frustration in your life? The honest answer is given by your actions. Will you undertake to do as many things as possible following the directions precisely regardless of what it is or who is giving the instructions?


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One Response to Why We Do Not Pay Attention, And How To

  1. Jackie A. January 19, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Wow. Magnificent in timely, as I was typing an e-mail to my brilliant son’s teacher that reports my son is not following through with completing his assignments! And myself needing to focus on work for a class this evening to be prepared! I enjoy every single article and pray I can put each one to good use after reading each one. Mindful, mindful, mindful stuff, all of it! I’m thankful for you sharing, Jackie A. = )

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