Are You Paying Attention?

Are you paying attention, really?

We say that we are paying attention, we even think that we are, but a sudden noise, a word from our colleague, or an incident unfolding in front of us, reminds us, often very quickly, that we are not doing so.

I was reminded of attention with three articles that appeared pretty much together. When something appears three times in quick succession, I take notice of the message.

The first was a short story (*1) concerns Dan Millman, Author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, who was recognised and stopped by a student.

The student explained that he had read Dan’s books, and understood that people were willing to pay highly for his consultations. He went on to say that he was a poor student and wanted to know what Dan could say in exchange for his one dollar. Dan smiled and offered the student six words.

“Here and Now, Breathe and Relax”.

My take on these words is that “Here and Now” highlights noticing where we are at this moment, essentially becoming present.

With “Relax and Breathe”, Dan is inviting us to stop, breathe deeply such that we can take in all that is around us.

Such words enable us to pay attention to what is here and now, to be present and through breathing and relaxing to open ourselves up to all the sounds and sensations that are coming up for us at this moment, internally and externally.

It is a great way to Be.

The second was from The Gottman Institute (*b) whose primary focus is on relationships.

Through their research and their observing couples close up, they are able to accurately predict whether marriages will fail. Their conclusion is that “The most important factor for a happy marriage is attention. Small moments of positive attention.”

We often think that love and marriage is about external things, house, holidays, cars, entertaining, yet Gottman believes the opposite. Lots of small things, done openly and honestly, regularly and consistently, creates levels of closeness and intimacy that external objects will never do over the long term. Rather like a salary increase, which is great at the time, but diminishes rapidly.

The third was from Tanmay Vora, (*c) who created the inspiring image below.

Tanmay makes the subtle distinction between giving our attention to others and seeking to get attention. He makes the point that great leadership is more about giving attention to others than getting attention. The latter arrives out of the former, but only if done well and with the right intention.

How do we give our attention?

  1. Stop whatever you are doing and turn and face your partner, or if in work, your colleague.
  2. Get curious.
  3. Look them in the eye.
  4. Listen deeply and fully. Listen to understand, not to reply.
  5. Remain silent and do not interrupt.
  6. Ask questions to aid further understanding.
  7. Resist the temptation to fix, advise or shift the subject.  Just be with whatever arises.
  8. Offer them your appreciation.

I care deeply about making a difference and I know that listening makes a huge difference to relationships, be they at home or in the workplace, and especially with children.

Some have described learning to listen and being heard as life-changing.

Colin D. Smith
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.


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Laura Staley
Laura Staley

Beautiful reminders here, Colin. I’m often amazed by the simple act of breathing, of paying attention to that inhale and exhale-that both are important -receiving the gift of life, exhaling as a contribution-that this can be enough to connect us to the Here & Now. Gentle practices definitely can alter the path of a life. Some of these may seem odd or unfamiliar because we’ve been trained in other patterns. Tracking body sensations, allowing the heart to safely purge bottled up past emotions/memories, noticing the flurry of thoughts that scurry around in the mind-many of those thoughts, again, often past-based commentary—watching all of this takes gentle practice with ourselves. Greeting another person after safely, gently flowing through one’s own internal detritus can contribute to that quieter presence with another human being’s heart, body, soul, eyes, smile, tears, or any words that flow to the surface to be spoken. Let peace begin with me. Thank you for this meaningful, thoughtful, really helpful article!

Mary Schaefer
Mary Schaefer

Thanks Colin for sharing these deep and useful points about the value of listening and attention. I recently ran across this line in an article about what it takes to establish a close friendship. “There is a longstanding debate in the sociology community about what humans want more: to be admired or known…” Though the thought was offered in the context of friendship, for me it relates to your point about a leader giving attention vs getting attention. Glad to have run across your article. Good stuff!

Laura Mikolaitis
Laura Mikolaitis

I enjoyed reading your article, Colin. Thank you for sharing these insights with us and the useful tips on how to be a better listener. I remember reading somewhere previously about the Gottman Institute and the research you reference, and I have to agree that doing small acts consistently – and positively- can make a difference – in many areas of our life.

I appreciate the food for thought today and am glad that I came across your article.

Len Bernat
Len Bernat

Colin – Great advice in and easy to relate to essay. Thanks for sharing.


Colin, I smiled when you mentioned you take notice of things that have in three’s – I take creed in watching for three’s as well. It is so obvious by your work that you care deeply about making a huge difference. Some of these very subtle suggestions that you offer I believe can make that huge difference in each of our lives to being aware of where we place our attention. Your gentle messages are very meaningful.✨✨✨

Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb

Colin your piece brought many memories of my former teaching career during which (like countless teachers the world over) I’d say ‘Pay attention’! to individual, or groups of students. When I started out as a teacher I would often intone these words with a high degree of irritation that fully exposed my frustration. But as the years rolled by I realised that I had to change my tone and moreover, pay more attention to students as individual beings. I found that a more gentle ‘admonish’ worked so much better especially when I would remind them how they feel when they are being ignored rather than listened to.

Also, is it not time for parents and adults to lead by example. I am continually aghast at how almost everyone is constantly hooked to their mobile screens and gizmo devices even while walking down the street and especially at table which is the perfect gathering place for families to gather and share their day, ideas and reflections. How much real communication (according to your tips) is going on in families and in the workplace?

As for the lifeblood role of attention in intimate relationships, is it possible that we have become so blind? How can the warmth and stability of love and marriage be based on ‘external things, house, holidays, cars, entertaining’ when the very word ‘intimate’ has nothing to do with such material things, but all to do with sharing mind, body, and soul?


Hello Colin, thank you for this thoughtful and minful article. “Here and Now, Breathe and Relax” are the six words that changed everything for me however; before I could embrace these words, I was on a continuous, mental “Freight Train to a Roller Coaster Down a Rabbit Hole” until I learned to get off and on the train at will with the practice of mindfulness. From finding the space to breathe comes presence and with presence we get to cultivate the beautiful skills and gift of really listenin, of really engaging and really connecting with others.

Thank you for caring about making a difference and for shining a beautiful light on how listening can make such an important difference in all of our relationships in every aspect of our lives.


From Darlene Corbett: Thank you Colin! Being in the now is so important. Too many people reminisce about what was and wish could still be. They may miss seeing and hearing what is important and right in front. I touched on some of this my speech yesterday. I appreciate your important here-and-now article.?

Helen Heinmiller
Helen Heinmiller

Great article and critical points on listening Colin. I appreciate the challenges to listening as it requires remaining in the present moment. Many times we think we are listening and being present but we are not, especially with children. How many young people are driven to violence or unhealthy habits from lack of being heard? I also believe one of our biggest challenges is to listen to our inner voice. Tuning out our soul guidance often causes us to take many unnecessary off-roads in our journey to find happiness. Thanks for using your voice on this critical topic.

Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler

Colin, this is such a great treatise on how to do what should come naturally to us. In the current circumstances, we are just so over stimulate, with so many things competing for our attention, with so many things vying for our attention and putting up obstacles for our attention span, we have to be reminded that building these skills is simple, yet hard. None of it is rocket science or molecular biology – it is akin to so many other things that require practice and repetition for us to become good at. The question becomes are we willing to do the work. Thank you so much for you helping us do our homework – it’s always a great blessing to have a cheat sheet to take with us – this article is definitely the primer that we all need if we want to improve this basic, vital skill. I appreciate your work in this area, and for sharing it with us.



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