THE BLOG
04/04/2011 08:55 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Currency of Attention

Webster's dictionary defines attention as "a mental concentration or readiness," but this definition does little to evoke the power of this force as it relates to its economic, political, social and personal power. We talk about paying attention. Someone popular is the center of attention. As intangible as it may seem, our attention is the currency of countless transactions we engage in every day.

Why is our attention so powerful? Because what we choose to put our attention on is where we direct our energy in all its forms -- including our time, creativity and, of course, our money. More simply put, where attention goes, energy flows.

Let's take a metaphor from the natural world. The sun provides energy in the form of warmth, and plants and animals have sophisticated systems to capture and convert that energy. Comparatively speaking, sunlight doesn't have much power because it's spread out in so many directions. But when it's focused and concentrated through a magnifying glass, it suddenly becomes far more powerful and can even start a fire. And when the power of light is condensed to a much greater degree, it becomes a laser that can cut through steel.

In the same way, our mind, with its power of attention, acts as a focusing agent for our energy, a magnifying glass through which that energy can be amplified in its impact. If we learn to train our attention, it, too, can become like a laser, a powerful tool for cutting through many of the illusions and misconceptions that trap so many of us in our day-to-day lives.

Let's look at how the major players in the corporate world relate to our attention. Companies spend billions of dollars on marketing and advertising, the goal of which is to catch our attention. In many cases it is their biggest expense. Our TV screens often carry one, two or three additional messages in the space around the picture we're watching, and as we surf the Internet nowadays, there are countless attention-grabbers on almost every page. Companies also spend thousands of dollars researching where people go while they are online, with some software programs even tracking which sites we visit, where we click and even how long we stay on a page. These days, our kids need even more stimulation and can watch TV, send instant messages and play a video game all while listening to their iPod.

All this seems like it would be exhausting, but have you ever noticed that it's a lot easier to watch television or surf the Web than it is to do something like meditate? That's because our attention is so accustomed to being distracted and drawn outward that for most of us, the idea of spending time in silence and doing nothing but focusing our attention seems almost impossible.

The good news is that we can regain control over our attention, and not just so that we will feel better at the end of the day. We can begin to harness the power of our attention in such a way that will create much more energy at work and also leave us with more to give when we get home. The first step is simply to become aware of how our attention moves and what directs it. In essence, this is one of the main purposes of meditation.

The subject of meditation is very vast, too vast, in fact, to encapsulate here in this article, but nowadays there are numerous books, audiotapes, classes and discussion forums on the subject that can easily be found on the Internet or in your local newspaper, bookstore or library. I would encourage anyone who is interested to take the time to find a forum and a technique that seems best suited for you.

As the world continues to move faster and faster, it's becoming increasingly imperative that we all find some kind of daily practice rooted in silence. From a scientific measure, we're just recharging our energy. Otherwise we go out in the world and have nothing to share.

I hope I've convinced you by now that attention is a commodity, a source of value that you're being solicited for constantly, a currency that you're already conducting business with every day, whether or not you're conscious of it or in control of it. This seems like a simple concept, but it's amazing how problems can be created if we're not aware of what is actually going on in our minds and how we're directing our energy. Perhaps this, more than anything else, is the real energy crisis at hand.

This piece is adapted from "Beyond Success: Redefining the Meaning of Prosperity" (AMACOM Books) by Jeffrey L. Gitterman. © 2009 Jeffrey L. Gitterman. All rights reserved.

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