May I Have Your Attention?

This morning, I was sitting in front of my fireplace with a cup of piping hot peppermint tea while a confetti snow fell over the mountains and canyon. In my hands, I held a book, a yellow highlighter and hot pink post-it notes. I heard the gentle sloshing of the water in the washing machine and the distant bark of the neighbor’s playful dog. I was practicing using my brain’s flashlight to focus my complete attention on each and every thing I have just described, one at a time.

The book I am reading is Peak Mind; Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day. I confess that I am so into this book that I find myself giggling, gasping and nodding in agreement with each and every page. This book with all its revelations about our brains and our attention has me captivated.

I stumbled into mindfulness and meditation six years ago in an attempt to cultivate self-awareness and an ability to stay in the present moment. I had a hard time articulating to others, in a succinct way, what I was discovering with both. I often used an analogy involving yoga or golf to attempt to explain how the small daily practices, done consistently over time, led to quite noticeable positive changes months later.

And now, in my hands, is the most incredible reference book I could ever dream of having — and it is so relatable, so captivating that I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to read it. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in mindfulness and meditation, the knowledge you will gain about your brain, and most importantly about your incredible superpower –ATTENTION — should be more than ample to spark your interest.

Your attention determines:

What you perceive, learn and remember;

how steady or how reactive you feel;

which decisions you make and actions you take;

how you interact with others;

and ultimately your sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. (Excerpted from page 4 of Peak Mind)

If that list isn’t enough to pique your interest, consider this: Your attention now has a commercial value. “If you aren’t paying for the product, you ARE the product.” As Dr. Amishi Jha states, more precisely it is your attention that is the product — a commodity that can be sold to the highest bidder. Did you know that we now have attention merchants and attention markets? And this forecasts the possibility of trading in human “attention futures” along with metals, oils, grains and currency.

I’m guessing that you might be paying more attention now…..

If our attention is so invaluable that it has become a commodity, perhaps that will be the wake up call that compels us to take control of what is rightfully ours and attend to it much like we would our physical health.

We tend to accept that, to improve our physical health, we need to engage in physical exercise. Somehow, we just don’t think the same way about psychological health or cognitive capacity. But we should! Just as specific types of physical training can strengthen certain muscles groups, this type of mental training can strengthen attention — if we do it. (Excerpted from page 15, the Chapter entitled A Mental Workout that Works, from the book Peak Mind)

Go back and re-read that list above in the blue background. Everything on that list is what we are striving for when we talk about personal development. It encompasses emotional regulation, self-awareness, good decision making, learning from past experiences, gaining knowledge and wisdom, changing behavioral patterns and cultivating gratitude. It all gets boiled down to one simple yet profound factor — attention.

Dr. Jha is a gifted writer who uses her personal experiences, decades of fascinating research and relatable metaphors to walk us through the operations manual of our complex brain, how attention gets hijacked, how we can de-clutter our minds and strengthen our focus so that we fully experience more of our lives.

“What you pay attention to is your life.” (Excerpted from page 26, Chapter entitled Attention is Your SuperPower, the book Peak Mind)

Just sit with that for a few minutes — What you pay attention to IS your life. Check your daily screen usage if you dare. Ponder that on average we have over 6,000 thoughts per day. Think about all the things you routinely juggle on a daily basis. Dr. Jha points out that the problem is not all the things that are vying for our attention every single day, it is that we lack internal cues about where our attention actually is — moment to moment. The solution? Pay attention to your attention.

Dr. Jha reveals that attention is both a superpower AND it is fragile. She identifies 3 main things that are “kryptonite” for our fragile attention: stress, threat and poor mood.

Stress: That perceived feeling of being overwhelmed can jettison us into time travel: rumination about the past or worry about the future. These only aggravate and accelerate the amount of stress we are experiencing.

“When you experience too much stress for too long, you get caught in the downward spiral of attention degradation; the worse attention gets, the less you are able to control it; the less you’re able to control it, the worse the stress gets.” (Excerpted from page 47, the chapter ….But There’s Kryptonite, the book Peak Mind)

Threat: Whether real or imagined, threat makes it nearly impossible to focus on any task at hand or even stay on track in a heated conversation. Our ability to direct our attention at will is gone. Threat vigilance increases (we are triggered to protect ourselves) and our attention become stimulus-driven (we are on keen lookout for anything that is threat-related.) No matter how hard we may try, the threat becomes the focal point of our attention. Think back on a disagreement you had where you felt that your integrity or intentions were under attack, and even now you may feel heat rising in your body. Was it hard to focus solely on the content of the disagreement?

“Even if you have the highest IQ on the block, here’s a truth about human brains: in some ways, they haven’t changed in thirty-five thousand years. If the brain believes it’s under threat, it’s going to reconfigure attention accordingly, regardless of whether what’s actually in front of you is a threat.” (Excerpted from page 50, chapter ….But There’s Kryptonite, the book Peak Mind)

Poor Mood: “Everything from chronic depression to how you feel after receiving bad news can constitute poor mood” explains Dr. Jha. No matter the source, the effect can send us into loops of repetitive negative thoughts. Performance of cognitive tasks that involve both attention and working memory worsen in the midst of poor mood. This worsening of attention and working memory affects accuracy, slows the speed at which the task is accomplished and inhibits varied responses to the task at hand.

Dr. Jha says that once we wrap our heads around the 3 components of kryptonite, might say — “ok, so, I’ll simply reduce my stress, be on the lookout for a bad mood and make sure I’m not feeling threatened by stuff that isn’t a real threat.”

There’s just one major problem – kryptonite is not only good at sabotaging our attention, it is SNEAKY!

“The fact is, we’re really bad at identifying forces that degrade attention, even when we’re immersed in them. We often aren’t able to recognize them for what they are. And further, without training to gain a stronger awareness of our own minds, we simply aren’t very cognizant of the effects. Excerpted from page 51, the chapter ….But There’s Kryptonite, the book Peak Mind).

Let’s stop right there for a moment and take in some good. Attention is our superpower and while it is fragile, it is also trainable! Did you just breathe a sigh of relief?

“It is possible to change the way our attention systems operate. This is a critical new discovery, not only because we ARE missing half our lives, but because the half we’re here for can feel like a constant struggle. (Excerpted from page 6, Introduction to the book, Peak Mind.

As I read Peak Mind, and share these insights with you in this post, I find myself feeling so incredibly grateful. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this book will change lives. This “critical new discovery” is combining the wisdom of centuries old meditative practices with groundbreaking neuroscience discoveries. It feels like the beginning of a new era of discoveries for mental health, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognition, emotional intelligence and resilience.

In the past I did have a hard time conveying to others just how game-changing mindfulness and meditation can be. I’d talk about neuroscience and neuroplasticity and people would glaze over. I’d talk about being in the “present moment” and eyes would roll.

Even more challenging was being able to give someone a concrete plan for cultivating mindfulness and starting a daily meditation practice of their own. I’d suggest books or podcasts but in the end it really was a DIY approach.

Lastly, it was hardest still to really get across to others how transformational mindfulness and meditation had been in my day to day life: How I stopped ruminating and needless worrying, how I am able rather effortlessly to bring my full attention back to the present moment when I notice it drifting off. I am now able to be in the midst of a lot of negative energy and remain detached from it, rooted in my calm center and much more capable of observing with clarity. I have freed myself from old emotional triggers. I am more resilient, more rested, and definitely more relaxed. Even when I am dreaming, my mindfulness shows up! I am a strong testament for everything that Dr. Amisha Jha offers in her book, Peak Mind.

In her book, Dr. Jha offers the 12 minute daily exercise that will put you on a path to reclaiming your attention and all its superpowers. Over the course of just 5 short weeks, she will guide you through Core Training for the Brain. It’s the beginning of a daily and lifelong practice that will undoubtedly change the quality of your life in remarkable ways.

It’s exciting that a resource like Peak Mind is available. The more we know, the more we grow!



Genuine Listening

I found myself in a bit of a conundrum recently. I was fully committed to leaning into my courage and being honest about how some things were landing on me. This meant that I also had to state my boundaries (again). This has always been something that I’ve struggled with – it feels so darned uncomfortable not to mention extremely vulnerable. It can be especially hard for me to share my hurt feelings with those I love. Yet I have made a commitment to myself to do hard things and to develop better navigational skills for just these sorts of relationship conversations. The problem? I entered familiar territory with a new strategy, but the receiver of my message of how I was feeling went into defense mode. Almost instantaneously I could feel that old familiar paradigm washing over both of us. It would have been so easy to fall into our old patterns and roles. But this time, I declined to play my old role and I stay grounded and calm.

I’d love to tell you that there was a quick, happy ending – with hugs and humor. That was not the case.

While the scenario played out much like it always has in the past, it was me who brought a new conviction to the situation. I knew I could not control how my conversation would be received. The only thing I could control was how I chose to respond in return. This is where real change takes place for me — when I make a conscious decision to choose a new path. I will only ever get a different result in the way I am treated if I stay committed to my self-worth and the boundaries that support my values. As a life-long people pleaser and conflict avoider, this will probably always be a work in progress for me.

I learned a lot from being both an observer and a participant in this interaction. Mindfulness and meditation practice have been instrumental in helping me to straddle these two perspectives. I made a lot of mental notes and later poured them out into my journal. Journaling helps me to sort through my emotions, another’s emotions and reactions, and differing points of view. It is often through journaling that I gain a deeper understanding of myself and why certain situations matter so much to me. In this case, it was not all surprising to recognize myself on both sides of the fence.

You see, I was on the receiving end of someone trying to insist that their idea was best for me but I had stated clearly that I did not want that. I used to be that person – the helper — who would jump in and “fix things” even when my help was not wanted or needed. Ugh….so that is what it feels like to be steamrollered by good intentions and poor “listening to understand” skills. Naturally, the person trying to help me solve a problem (and not even the right problem), was hurt that I would not be appreciative of their efforts and their thoughtfulness. (Oh my, I have been that wounded helper so many times in the past.)

On the other side of the fence, is the new me, trying my best to set and hold boundaries, to honor myself by stating clearly what I want or need. It was important to me that my wishes would be respected. The reason this is such a tender and vulnerable issue for me is that for many years, I would acquiesce to keep the peace, I would sacrifice my own needs and desires to placate others, and I was often afraid that I would lose treasured relationships if I held my ground. The tap root for all this people pleasing and timid behavior was embedded in my childhood experiences.

Since boundaries are something that I am striving to develop with confidence and conviction, I am trying to practice new skills with what seem like relatively small matters. What I discovered was that even a small situation can be fueled with a lot of emotions, defensiveness, misunderstanding and poor listening.

Ironic isn’t it — that I could see myself as both the over-zealous helper and the evolving person striving to set clear boundaries. What a rich lesson for me to absorb. It is a reminder that when we get to know ourselves better, we also gain a greater awareness and empathy for others.

It just so happened that I came across some invaluable insight from Dr. Rick Hanson just as I was processing all of this:

It was those words — “the restraint of reactive patterns in order to stay present with another person” that stopped me in my tracks. What I had wanted most during that hard, heated conversation was to be heard — and what I was learning from my own part in that same conversation was the value of genuine listening. Listening to understand. Genuine listening that moves us to truly hear what another person wants us to know about their most vulnerable places.

Too often, we find ourselves unconsciously falling into the same old conversations and familiar but ineffective patterns. Judgements and defensiveness are roadblocks that lead to dead ends. Dr. Hanson offers a better way for us to enter these challenging conversations — by being open to hearing how someone really feels.

This does require that we tap into our empathy and that we pay attention to old reactive patterns (our own and another person’s). So many times, our actions are well-intended, but we miss the opportunity to respect how it might land on someone.

Making a genuine effort to change how we “show up” for each other in these hard conversations can have a transformational impact in our relationships.

Listening to understand creates a bridge for a better conversation — and a deeper connection. And did you know that repairing a misunderstanding or a wrongdoing can actually strengthen a relationship?

Relationships also grow stronger and flow more easily the better we know each other. Just as we are careful with the sensitivities of young children, we can work to be more cognizant of these tender places with our friends and family. Some of those tender places are the wellspring of the best attributes of people we love.

There is a happy ending to my story. It took a few days and several more conversations — and yes, there were a few good laughs to boot. (Did you know that laugher completes a stress cycle?).

Perhaps the best take-away from this whole experience is that I earned a merit badge in the personal growth department. I am finding solid footing for expressing my boundaries and I am able to refrain from getting caught in old, unhealthy emotional swirls. It really feels good to use my tools and get a favorable result in the end, even if I still need a lot more practice.


Dr. Rick Hanson – Check out Dr. Hanson’s many resources including his books, podcasts, newsletters, and courses. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook for daily doses of practical wisdom and insight.

Nedra Tawwab – Therapist, NY Times Bestselling Author and Relationship Expert – Nedra is best known for her work on boundaries! Follow her on Instagram “NedrasNuggets” for daily doses of inspiration for setting, holding and honoring boundaries.

Elizabeth Earnshaw, Clinical Psychologist, Author, Gottman Institute Trained Counselor — Elizabeth is one of my favorite young resources for sound relationship advice and experienced guide for invaluable tools to navigate all of our most important relationships. Follow her on Instagram — LizListens

Broken Spirits

I have often shared how it was a broken heart that put me on the path of personal growth. The truth is that I also suffered from a broken spirit, one that was decades in the making. It was my fragile, broken spirit that needed to be healed first. I just did not know that at the time.

This morning I was reflecting on those first few weeks of being on my own after that painful breakup — how I wrote in my journal that I wanted peace, to feel safe and to be free to be myself. Ironically I thought that living alone was the best way for me to achieve those three things. What I should have been asking myself is “why were you not finding these things within your relationship?”

An inventory of both past and present relationships might have revealed some truths that required further investigation. It dawned on me that when I am behaving and feeling most authentically myself, then I am both at peace and feeling safe — both alone and within my relationships. No one else is responsible for ensuring those core values are ever present but me.

What became very evident was that I need to untangle myself from a complex combination of childhood trauma, learned behavioral patterns, exhaustion from hustling for my worth, and a heavy trunk of unprocessed emotions. It was this complex combination that had been breaking my spirit, slowly and consistently over time. I was completely unaware of the toll it was taking — on me, on how I showed up, how I reacted, on the dynamics of my most cherished relationships.

One thing became crystal clear to me. Those times in my life when I felt most at peace, safe and my buoyant, resilient self was when I was with people who saw past my flaws, who recognized my potential and who mentored me through role modeling and coaching.

My young broken spirit was often mended by my beloved Aunt Betz, my church choir director, a high school teacher, a cherished friend. These are the marble jar people that Brene Brown talks about — those who are so trustworthy that we feel safe to take refuge in their care. These earth angels give us little footholds to help us tap into our innate worthiness and foster our growth. I don’t think that I would have been able to cope with all the chaos in my family’s dysfunction without the help of these incredible people. They not only gave me a safe place to land for a while, they gave me wings to fly a little higher than my circumstances. When I was young, they were helping to untangle me from the baggage that was breaking my spirit.

As I dug deeper into personal growth work, two things really began to gel for me. One was that it is our responsibility as adults to do the work of untangling ourselves from outgrown narratives and old baggage. The second was that even the most dedicated practitioners also get snagged on their past, and fall into unconscious, unhealthy patterns from time to time. It is often in times of high stress, great loss or adversity that trigger us to fall back.

Much as I would like to pretend that this did not happen to me in my 60’s, it did. I fell back into old uncomfortable but very familiar pattern reminiscent of my childhood without even being aware of it. I slipped into the role of helper extraordinare and then followed that unhealthy path down a rabbit hole into enabler and co-dependent. Completely unaware of my blind spots, I became the one who was instrumental in breaking my own spirit. The warning signs of resentment, stuffing my emotions, and feeling so uneasy that I was jumping out of my skin at sudden noises only fed an old story line that I was not good enough, not worthy, falling short –again. Unbeknownst to me, I had drifted into the very unhealthy end of my enneagram spectrum. I was in a strange and complex paradox of trying to get my needs met while accepting behaviors that were in direct conflict with those needs.

To add to my confusion, while I was falling so short in that relationship, my friends and family members saw me as an easy going, cooperative, optimistic and encouraging person. How was it that others could see those good parts of me but my partner could not? This paradigm is common actually — as I discovered through long conversations with friends. Could the answer be in how we “show up” differently without so many deep rooted emotional entanglements clouding the waters. If so, what is it about ourselves that we do differently in our closest relationships that contribute to this conundrum?

For me, it was the fear of making things worse by bringing up something important to me. The tap root of my unwavering need for trust that was broken repeatedly in my childhood. So often when I would speak up for me and my brothers, the consequences were far worse than the initial event.

This pattern began to appear in my relationship and I got hooked on old insecurities. Trust unraveled and my spirit took a hit. I did try to explain this to my partner once but I was clumsy about it. It is a textbook example of why we need to get skilled at having hard conversations — both in the way that we articulate our truth and how we listen to learn.

The better we understand ourselves as well as our basic needs and desires, the healthier our relationships can be. I only wish that I had been introduced to the enneagram earlier in my healing journey. You see, the enneagram sheds a lot of light on childhood roots of learned behavioral patterns and what it is that we each need in order to feel fulfilled, loved, valued and safe. The enneagram is truly one of the most valuable self-awareness and self-discovery tools we can access. A companion resource for the enneagram is Brene Brown’s powerhouse book, The Gifts of Imperfection. This book illustrates so well the armor that we choose to protect ourselves from the core motivations and fears that the enneagram reveals to us.

Check out Yung’s deeper explanation of this wisdom in the Recommended Resources at the end of this post.

As I was working on my draft of this blog post, the above quote from Yung Pueblo landed in my inbox. It was so timely and his accompanying insights dovetailed with my own experience and the wisdom I’m striving to impart. While Yung Pueblo leans heavily into his meditation practice to peel back the layers of his patterns, I turn to the enneagram for course correction. When I find myself feeling off kilter, I know I am drifting into the unhealthy end of my spectrum. I heed the warning signs of resentment or feeling unappreciated as cues that I have overcommitted myself or failed to set a boundary.

These examples really just scratch the surface of all that you can learn from the enneagram. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts is helping us to see others in a whole new light. When we understand that each of the nine types has a dominant way of showing up in life, it releases us from taking things so personally. That creates a bridge to understanding and empathy. We can begin to recognize the bids for connection that others are making even when they might be clumsy about it.

When I reached the point of being able to trust myself enough to know what I needed to feel at peace, safe and valued, I knew that I was making meaningful strides in my goal of being my authentic self. Admittedly this was hard work and requires ongoing practice. Shedding the armor of being a people pleaser or shape shifter to feel like I fit in or was liked has been the equivalent of shedding unwanted pounds. It is easier to express my emotions and my needs now without all those old entanglements getting in the way.

This brings me back to broken spirits and broken hearts. Everyone experiences broken spirits and broken hearts in their lives — and sometimes that brokenness takes a very long time to heal. So often we do not realize just how much another is hurting, in need of empathy, compassion and trust. Sometimes we project our pain onto others because we lack self awareness. Sometimes we take things too personally because we ourselves are fragile. When we are not skilled at having hard conversations, we can inadvertently shame or blame others. This is why I believe Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability is crucially important. Self-awareness and vulnerability are two of the strongest gifts we can give to ourselves and each other. Deeper, more fulfilling relationships are cultivated in these rich spaces of trust, honesty, acceptance and understanding.


Yung Pueblo — Author of Clarity and Connection. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook for daily insights on personal growth, maturity and growth mindset partnerships.

Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest Hanson

Sharing this episode from the Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron about the Gifts of Self-Awareness. Spoiler Alert: Amy Porterfield not only shares my name, but my enneagram Type 2 also!

Nuggets of Wisdom – Visual Images

Visual images are some of the most beneficial aids in my mindfulness toolbox. Today’s post is chock full of my “go to” images that I depend upon to keep me present in the moment and showing up in an authentic way. Even if I’m feeling really strong emotions (mine or others), these helpful tools keep me from impulsively reacting to big feelings.

About 20 years ago, I met the most incredibly calm and benevolent young woman. She was the instructor for my 5:30 a.m. hot yoga class. She would start our practice with a visual image: planting our bare feet firmly on our mat, we were to envision small roots growing into the ground, anchoring us in our yoga practice for the next 90 minutes.

When I was gaining a little traction with my meditation practice a few years ago, I recalled that image from yoga class and thought about how I could create a similar visual to help me take my meditation “off the cushion” and into daily life.

My visual image is of dropping my anchor into my very core of calmness — that place I find when I can let thoughts go and focus my attention in the present moment. In meditation this is returning to my breath. In real life, it is staying present with the situation at hand — and most importantly, not getting attached to my own emotions or those of others. I can make better decisions when I am calm. I will be much more likely to act in alignment with my true nature when I am calm. That mental image of dropping my anchor de-escalates things for me pretty quickly.

A wise mindfulness teacher once said that most situations are benign — they are neither good nor bad. It is how we respond or react to them that makes them positive or negative. What is a big deal to one person may not even get on the radar screen of another. Staying calm and paying attention to how others are feeling, helps me get a grasp on why a situation may be a big deal or a small one for someone else. Often this is more relevant than the actual circumstances.

This may be one of my personal favorites — the visual image of holding a brightly colored spool and letting out a little extra kite string, watching that kite dance a little higher in the sky, adjusting to the currents and gaining fresh perspective.

Sometimes we are just too afraid to let go, even just a little. We chase what we think we need or want so badly. We might micromanage our lives or others. We can be prone to hover or smother, be needy or greedy. We can let fear hold us back from trying new things, or taking that leap of faith.

At this stage of my life, I use this visual image most often when it comes to relationships, especially adult children and extended family. Letting a little kite string out means that I am holding space for others, recognizing that their lives are busy and that they want to solve their own problems. I don’t need to be tugging so hard for attention or to be the one they turn to for advice. I just…..let out a little kite string.

I credit Malcolm Gladwell for this visual. If anyone can look at a situation from a ga-zillion perspectives, it is Malcolm Gladwell. And he does it with a child-like curiosity and unabashed wonderment. To me, this is how it feels to look through a kaleidoscope, twisting and turning it with pure delight, fascinated by the changes.

So often, we view things from our same old vantage point. The fact is that we are changing all the time, and oddly enough so are those chronic ongoing situations in our own lives, in our communities, country and globally.

Listen to a few episodes of Revisionist History podcast with Malcom Gladwell and you will witness a big shift in perspective when a situation is viewed from all angles, and through the experiences of everyone involved.

Remember the old adage, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure? This visual is a little like that for me. I envision myself holding a smooth cylindrical kaleidoscope that has a little weight to it, placing it in front of my eye, and watching the problem present itself in a myriad of ways. It’s a reminder to withhold judgment, get out of my box, stay curious — and make sure I am actually looking at the real problem. (Credit goes to Michael Stanier Bungay and his book The Advice Trap for this wisdom. Far too often we jump in to problem solve so fast, we “solve” the wrong problem).

When I first discovered mindfulness, I had a little cork that I placed in a small clear vase on my kitchen window sill. I would see it every morning when I poured my first cup of coffee. It was my reminder not to get bogged down in rumination, disappointment or sadness. I had read an article in Mindful Magazine that talked about how freeing it is to let go of getting caught up in the negativity bias. The image of letting one’s cork float effortlessly through the flow of life was inspirational to me.

I didn’t know at that time just how much I was actually tethered by old behavioral patterns, my life history and the disappointment of a dream disintegrating. Over time, with awareness and daily practice, I freed myself from those weights and found that I really did feel lighter in many ways. Today when I feel myself growing a little heavy in spirit, I think about that cork on my windowsill. It’s a reminder to look for the good.

The little things that unfold in our daily lives offer buoyancy to us if we are paying attention. Make eye contact with someone when you are having a conversation — you will feel your cork rising when you see it in their eyes that they know you are really listening to them. It’s magic and it’s rare….because too often today our faces are gazing at our phones and not each other. Call a friend or your sibling instead of texting — hearing each other’s voices adds the spice. Don’t be surprised if you learn so much more than you expected. Think about someone who makes your life better — and send them a card or a text expressing your appreciation. Smile more. Laugh out loud. Listen to the sounds of nature. Read a good book. Listen to your favorite music. Dance in the kitchen. Take a break.

Just holding on to those little moments of joy for ten seconds releases happy hormones and that will definitely let your cork rise and buoy your spirits.

I hope you enjoy reading about my visual images. I do love sharing them. Sometimes a simple mental image that is all we need to bring us back to the present moment.