We talked about attention with Marcela Pérez, a psychologist at Comfama and magister in Mental health in childhood and adolescence.
How can you define attention?
It’s a mental process that enables us to choose between different stimuli that we are interested in, so that we can focus on them.
Even though it’s a cognitive capacity that manifests in childhood, it evolves and becomes more efficient with passing years. This brain maturation depends on several factors, like diet, education and quality caring. It’s vital that there are no episodes of abuse, because they affect our brain architecture and, therefore, our attention.
Can we control our attention?
Imagine that attention is a gatekeeper. Its job is to let visitors in or hold them out. Your attention does the same, it filters the stimuli all around you and only lets through those that you decide can enter. Look at this moment for example, you asked you attention to read this article and gave your guardian instructions to allow the letter in while possibly blocking nearby people, other conversations and traffic noises. Take a look around. Now ask your attention to return to this reading. Yes, we can control our attention.
What is the use of being aware of our attention?
Just like physical health depends largely on what you eat, mental health depends on what you let into your mind through attention. The stimuli come from your senses: smell, hearing, sight, touch and taste.
Paying attention to what you let through means being aware of the relationships and conversations that you make, of what you read, of social media and the accounts that you follow on it, of the objects you buy, the movies you watch, the sports that you play, and many other situations.
The things to which you decide to pay attention define you, and either help you stay on route or push you away from your objectives.
How do we achieve healthy attention?
An excess in attention leads to obsession, while a lack of it leads to neglect. We must be aware that attention is selective and allows us to tend to a conversation at a given moment, and the next return to reading something. Even though you may find two or more activities to be entertaining, you can’t do them well at the same time. Our attention is selective, that’s why it’s ideal to “change focus”, which means that if you have many tasks ahead of you, you should do them one at the time.
Changing focus is healthy for our attention, so it’s important to find several activities that we’re passionate about, that way we find a middle ground and avoid obsessive behaviors.
It’s very important to understand that what’s interesting for one person may not be to another. It’s our attention who will allow us to choose and to build our own personality.
Positive psychology is an exercise of attention that studies the strength and virtue of human beings. It’s all about a change in perspective that shifts from “repairing whatever is broken” to nurturing the best in people.