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What’s Got Your Attention

Did you know that the average person has an attention span of 8 seconds?

That is one second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish

So why is it so difficult for us to stay focused?

Scientists from Princeton and UC Berkeley have found that our brains are actually wired to focus on things 

in short bursts of attention 

vs. long uninterrupted periods of attention. 

This attention rhythm enabled our ancient ancestors to be at the ready – 

Always on alert and engaged with their changing surroundings. 

(i.e. Is that something I can eat for dinner? Or is that something that wants to eat me for dinner?!)

You needed to be constantly aware of what was happening around you to stay alive.

These days we use our short bursts of attention to try and navigate the crazy amount of stimuli that we take in every day. 

Work, family, social media, entertainment, and school pull our attention in a million different directions.

But what if we harnessed our attention differently?

In our Generous Classroom, we are helping students figure out how to focus their attention on the things in life that truly matter…like people!

Being generous with our attention means tuning in to those around us. 

Not just trying to survive and meet our own needs, 

but seeing the needs of others and reaching out in empathy. 

I’d Like to Walk a Mile or 2 in Your Shoes, Please

It is super easy to focus on ourselves – our needs, our wants, our hopes, and our dreams.

But what would happen if we used our short bursts of attention – our innate survival skills –  to focus on the needs of others?

What would it look like if we scanned the horizons of our daily lives looking for ways to get generous with our attention?

This is where empathy comes in.

We get to imagine what it is like to step into their shoes, live someone else’s life, experience their hopes, and dream their dreams. 

Take a look around you right now.

Has your co-worker, George, been stressed out and overwhelmed for a few days – why is that?

What about the Uber driver who seemed distracted and anxious when she picked you up? 

Or what about your Great-aunt Melanie who seems to be a bit on the lonely side lately?

When you engage in empathy, you take a moment to step into their shoes and imagine what life is like for them.

And then comes the fun part – 

being generous with your attention.

How could you respond in each of these situations that would bring hope and encouragement?

Maybe a quick check-in with George to see how you can best support him or take a task or two off of his plate? 

A healthy tip and a 5-star review for your new Uber friend?

Dropping by to visit Auntie Mel with a plate of her favorite chocolate chip cookies? 

It doesn’t take much time or energy on our part to reach out – but it sure makes a whole lot of difference in the lives of those around us.

When we reach out in empathy and are generous with our attention, we connect on a whole other level – buoying spirits and offering hope.

Those short bursts of empathetic attention have the power to make someone’s day – 

help them feel seen, 

let them know they are loved and appreciated.

Generosity unleashed! 

Empathy embraced!

It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?


Susanna Aughtmon is a gifted writer, wonderful wife, mother, daughter and friend, and a valued member of the I Like Giving team.