Attention and Awareness
We continue exploring Presence-Based Coaching by examining the qualities that make-up our consciousness: focused ATTENTION and open, alert AWARENESS. It is usually easiest to understand these qualities in relationship to each other.
To understand the distinction between Attention and Awareness, we can use the metaphor of shining a flashlight in the dark. ATTENTION is what we choose to focus on in any moment, whatever is within the beam of light. In this example AWARENESS is the darkness; it is our broader field of experience, like a radar that monitors our internal and external environments.
Whatever we pay attention to within the larger field of awareness constitutes attention. Because our experience is shaped by whatever occupies our attention, it is important to have the ability to direct and manage our attention.(1) We are talking about the ability to manage our minds and our thought process.
ATTENTION: the mental faculty of taking notice – what aspect of life do you take notice of?
AWARENESS: the aspect of mind that is aware of itself and the world – what aspect of you is aware of itself and the world?
The practice of Presence – paying attention to present-moment experience with a non-judgmental, curious attitude – pulls one’s attention into this moment, out of the past and out of the future into this immediate fragment of time. By focusing on the present-moment we notice or register more of what exists in the larger field of awareness right now. Presence has been characterized as an “attentional ability” (2) in that one is able to focus in an undistracted way on the object at hand: “When we Presence something, we let our full attention rest on it.”(3) In this way, Presence includes both the abiding open aspects of AWARENESS and the focused and alert qualities of ATTENTION.
Practicing Presence may help us to expand the field of conscious experience (awareness) and allow new phenomena to register in our conscious mind (attention). If we are psychologically present in the moment, we allow our attention to remain connected to the actual unfolding of experience from moment-to-moment. While this might mean keeping attention on things we would often rather ignore, the end benefit is a capacity to tolerate and manage our experience to a larger range of experience. We can be open to the stimulus (attention) as well as to the broader unfolding moment (awareness).
In the case of experiencing personal or professional challenges, the PBC process helps people learn to simultaneously notice discomfort, and manage anxiety long enough to discern the appropriate response to best move toward goals. Clients learn to tolerate difficulty without becoming overwhelmed. They strengthen their meta-cognition muscle so a negative stimulus is neither avoided, indulged, or harbored; instead, it is acknowledged, responded to, and then let go into the every-changing landscape of experience.
Practicing Presence allows us to experience this particular “fragment of time” and all that is included in it (4). With attention and awareness focused on the contents of our current experience, one experiences a “filled present” resulting in potential increases in pleasure and fulfillment as well as an experience of time slowing down or expanding.
How it works: Examples of PBC in Action
To illustrate the transformational process of our Presence-Based Coaching method, we’ll look at the responses of past clients and examples that illustrate the Presence-Based Coaching learning process in action.
Amanda: Well, I hit two or more moments during the last week where I was feeling anxious and stressed and then I stopped, observed, aligned and finally allowed myself to be in the present moment without letting the rest of the day absorb me completely.
In this example, Amanda was able to change her experience by shifting her attention from thinking about the future and all that needed to be done, to bringing her attention in to the moment and whatever she was doing. This change helped Amanda’s business:
This practice is strengthening my relationships with friends and customers by being more aware of them. I was consciously making an effort to listen to them instead of letting my mind wander.
Julie: As I approached my business plan, I was noticing all sorts of avoidance behaviors. I just noticed and then did what I needed in order to pave the way into deeper relationship with the business plan. I am now well on my way in fleshing out the pieces that I can do without consultation.
In this example, Julie noticed and acknowledged her avoidance behavior. Instead of engaging in something to distract herself, she was present to the anxiety and avoidance, eventually getting herself to sit down and do the work she needed to do. She was learning to tolerate and recognize anxiety and discomfort, staying with the experience long enough to let it subside and shift into something different: an effective response.
Steve: On Sunday, when I actually had a moment to relax, I enjoyed the day more allowing myself to not worry about the shop/work etc.
Learning to manage our attention is what we refer to as a Being-based practice. Often times in coaching or any activity we practice doing something over and over. PBC requires practicing managing attention over and over but the primary action is to “notice.” The act of noticing is the first step to change. Once we can notice and see something, we’re more able to affect that thing.
Jennifer: I also had success at work where I made a presentation to the whole sales team. I was present when I prepared for it, so it went extremely well. Usually, I rush and end up floundering.
When it comes to our lives, being able to manage our attention and thinking is paramount to happiness and effectiveness.
Try on some of these ideas. The first step in PBC is to simply begin to notice. The act of stopping and reflecting is powerful, and it’s a subjective experience that some people might not even notice. Consider the domains of self, others, and the environment.
Notice: Where do you put your attention? Within any moment, what do you tend to focus on? Which of the three domains gets most of your attention? self, others, or the environment? What happens when you begin to notice the other domains?
Notice: Each day take a moment to soften your gaze and broaden the field of attention; expand your awareness. What do you experience? hear? feel?
Write down your observations and at the end of the week see if you notice any patterns.
Please join us as we continue discussing the Qualities of Presence in our next post:
Silence and Stillness
(4) McPhee, 2005, p. 7
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