Paying Attention

This is a followup to my post on self-love.

How can you be loving to yourself? 

My answer is:

Develop your capacity for attention and intention


In my article on self-love, I talked about the strategy of taking a moment before making a choice to ask do I really want to do this? This does a few different things. Firstly, it makes you feel like you’re making a choice

It’s easy (and I’ve done it) to say yes to so many things that suddenly you have no time, energy, or other resources to make choices. My schedule has been so full of obligatory commitments that there’s no room to breathe anymore. It’s easy to say that I have to do all of these things that I’ve signed up for. A commitment is a commitment, right?

I realized, in taking many moments of pause, that all the things I “have” to do are actually my choice. I currently have to go to graduate school, because I signed up and paid for it. I have to go to work so that I have money to pay for what I need. I have to eat a certain way if I really want to heal my autoimmune disease. I also, as a human, need to make time for friends, family, exercise, and fun.

In other words, I am “busy.” But, wasn’t that my choice? 

I could be a prisoner to all these things, slaving away and blaming them for my lack of energy and time. Or, I could admit to myself that I chose this

I chose graduate school because I want to learn how to help people as a therapist. I want to keep working because I like my job and I want to be able to live the lifestyle I like living. I want to heal my autoimmune disease, and along the way I want to feel my best and have the most energy possible so I can stay happy and healthy.

In short, instead of paying attention to the bad things, I am paying attention to my why. I am consistently taking moments to appreciate that the choices are made are contributing to the life I want for myself – in the big picture.

Once I realized that everything I’m doing is a choice, it became possible to “choose” intentionally. 

All the momentary, attentive choices add up to create the life you’re living

My emotional-eating binges of the past occurred because I felt something, failed to realize it, and reached for food instead, consuming it mindlessly until some craving was satisfied. That describes most of my life of eating. Only recently have I brought my attention toward myself, to both my feelings and my cravings.

It only consists of gently asking myself, What am I doing right now, and why? And it has gone from the food I eat to what I wear, what I do with my 10-minute breaks, how I plan my days…everything.

Once I realized what I was doing and why, I could start making decisions about whether or not I want to keep doing it. 

Before change, we need awareness. Awareness is paying attention, and meaningful change comes from making a decision. Ideally, that decision is aligned with some bigger-picture vision: it’s a positive vision of what you want your life to look like, given that everything is a choice. 

A Case Study

I’ve had a suspicion for some time that “sugar is the devil” (my naturopath’s eloquent words), for me in particular. I’ve become increasingly aware of the negative ramifications it has for me, but I had yet to do anything about it. I didn’t really want to do anything about it, because…well…it’s pretty much the most difficult thing to cut out, and also I’m addicted. 

So, this New Year, I set an intention: I don’t want to eat sugar for 2 months. I want to see what happens.

I journaled for a while about why I wanted to do this and also what I would need in order to be able to accomplish it. Those needs included: craving-busting foods like coconut cream and other healthy fats, a self-care practice that would ground me when I was feeling emotional, a support system, and a plan & prepared food so I wouldn’t be in a food emergency situation. With all those needs in mind (attention, again), I set out to live two months sugar-free.

And then, I didn’t. 2 weeks into January, I began eating sugar again.

Here’s where attention comes into play again. Without paying attention to my thoughts, it would have been easy to spiral into feelings of failure. I know from past experience: that would have triggered a full-scale rebellion against all my food intentions, just because I failed at one thing.

I surprised myself, though: I didn’t believe I failed. I thought to myself, “okay – I hear you, Anne. Maybe this was too much to undertake right now. Maybe it was harder than you thought. Maybe this isn’t quite what you need.” And I let myself be less strict, keeping in mind my intention of reducing overall inflammation in my body.

I’ve found that I eat considerably less sugar than I used to. I’ve gone from a sweet thing after every meal to a sweet thing maybe once a day. Sugar tastes sweeter, and I’m satisfied by it more quickly. Strict adherence to a deprivation plan did not work. Attention paired with intention did.

I pay attention to how I feel when I eat it. I pay attention to why I am craving it in the first place. I pay attention to my emotional needs, my self-care needs, how my energy is. All of these moments of mindful attention have worked together to help me keep my intention, to reduce inflammation in my body, strong. This stuff is powerful.

Try it! What do you think?

Paying Attention