Paying attention and happiness (part 2) – self-awareness

Hello and welcome to this month’s neuro blog! And of course: best wishes for happy 2018!

In last month’s blog, we discussed the fact that voluntary attention – what we consciously focus on – is the instrument thanks to which we can shape our reality – rather than it being just the result of an interpretative process based on our unique life experiences. Really paying attention is the means through which we can expand our horizons: by consciously choosing what we attend to, we challenge our ‘newspaper syndrome’ (for a refresher, read about your brain as newspaper).

Paying better attention as well as more frequently, thereby refusing to accept the limited reality which is presented to us, is worth our while because otherwise “[w]e can’t study, listen, converse with others, work, play, or even sleep well” (see Allan Wallace’s book ‘The Attention Revolution’, 2006). Apart from the obvious discomfort which must ensue from such fundamental dysfunctions, what is really at stake is our happiness. Lacking the capacity to focus robs us of choice and leaves us vulnerable to the myriad stimuli in and out there, waiting to turn us into weathercocks.

Let’s take a moment to explore the benefits of paying attention. First, let me suggest that paying attention, like charity, should begin at home, in the service of your own self-awareness. For instance, paying attention to our thoughts can help us remember that those are more often than not just opinions, views, expectations or memories, not hard facts. Noticing how we think and feel in turn enhances emotional intelligence, resilience and adaptability. A 2014 study found that self-awareness makes “normal daily irritants [ ] less disruptive” (Ricard, Lutz and Davidson).

In addition to making emotional self-management smoother, I have noticed in folks gaining in self-awareness, a process I am lucky to witness often in the course of my coaching work, a quietening of the mind, a stronger sense of self, greater acceptance and a lesser reactivity overall. A third benefit I have observed from paying attention to oneself is that it also lifts motivation, increases the appetite for self-determination and therefore improves one’s goal achievement prospects.

As 2018 kicks off, how about making paying attention to yourself one of your New Year’s resolutions? Get better acquainted with yourself, become less upsettable and discover how to adapt more easily!

If you’d like to tell me about your behaviour and/or your brain, you will find me at In the meantime, relax and let your brain look after you!

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