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 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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    • Hi Mark, thank you.

      One of the lovely things about the www is that our stuff stays there forever, which means every so often a post is seen, shared and commented upon and that keeps it alive.

      Thank you for sharing your reflections about your Dad, precious moments and long time thoughts and memories. Much appreciated.

      You are right about attention, it is the greatest gift you can give to anyone, and it is not only free but something we can all do. Some might say that attention/listening is so close to love that most people would never know the difference. And if that means your Dad loved everyone with his presence, well that feels very special to me.

      Take care and thanks again for sharing


  1. 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.

    • Thank you Tom for sharing your thinking, and your kind words, all much appreciated.

      It is so true what you say…it should be simple, and in some circumstances it really is simple. For example, a loved one is about to draw their last breath and they beckon you over, and to come close to them, as they can only whisper. They are about to share their last words. You are, (and I am 100% certain of this), not going to get your mobile out. We know how to listen.

      Which is why your thoughts on distraction and our inability to focus easily or for any length of time. Two things, firstly is that all providers of product or service are skilled at getting our attention. Secondly, we like to get attention, so every ping is a possible ‘like’ and each one of them gives us a fix, which is like an addiction.

      You are right about practice and repetition. Start off small and start off small. In listening, begin by intending to listen, look at the eyes of the speaker, and give them your full attention (no mobile and no interrupting), and be curious about them and what they say. Don’t be surprised when the speaker opens up to you, comes alive, and afterwards says thank you for listening (ironically, you may well have not said anything).


  2. 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.

    • Thank you Helen for your thoughts. You feel this a lot, don’t you? Listening and feeling heard, matters.

      It is a little like noticing how a child has grown when we only see them every month, yet their parents don’t notice. Every time we don’t listen to our child, they learn a lesson that it is okay to not listen or pay attention. We learn that is okay to have a conversation with someone whilst at the same time texting your friend.

      A mum of twins of around 2 or three years old, decided to sit down near to where they were playing and to simply and only watch them. She had no distractions, she wanted to just watch them, and by giving them her full attention. She was interested, curious, wondering about what they would do, how they play, and how they interact.

      What she noticed is that during the one hour there were more than 20 occasions where one of them would look at her, to make sure she was still there.

      Obviously, I have no real idea of what was going on for them but I guess that they felt reassured that Mum was there, she was noticing them, and they could feel her love for them. Also, guessing it was a wordless exchange. How many times can we tell, can we feel, what the person in front of us is feeling or thinking?

      We will do anything we can to find happiness, yet it remains elusive, nothing I do or have or buy, brings me it. If someone feels heard though, their view of self changes, they feel valued, that they matter and from this increase in self-worth the threads of happiness begin, which as we both know is an inside job.


    • I agree with your response. I think defining happiness in words is challenging. For me, it is a combination of feeling bliss, security, belonging to the whole, and being seen (or validated). Things don’t make us feel this way, even fame, because fame may appear to bring security and being seen, but it sets us apart from everyone and puts a higher standard to live up to and we can lack the feeling of belonging to the whole.

    • Great point Helen, thank you. I agree that happiness is challenging to define. As it is all the things you mentioned and more as well as paradoxically the absence of all of them. We can make the mistake of if I do this, or have this I will be happy. Whereas happy comes from within and in this moment, which is perfectly imperfect we can simple, be, happy. Curiously, the more we are being happy, the more all the things we thought we needed to have to become happy, will appear, as if by magic. When in fact our vibration has risen and then those that vibrate at the same level with be attracted. These are more thoughts at this moment.

    • I so know what you mean, meaningful conversations are rare yet both deeply wanted and valued when they do happen.

  3. 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.?

    • Thank you Darlene for your thoughts. I agree, how many times are we spending our time in the past or the future, and are not paying attention to the situation, or more importantly the person in front of us. How do we feel when we notice, realise, sense, that the person in front of us is ‘somewhere’ else, and not with me? When we share something important to us, and we stop talking and we watch, waiting for their reaction and response. There is silence and then they return, noticing it has gone quiet and you are looking at them. Then they start talking, to fill the awkward silence, totally unaware you have shared something important.

      How many times, how many people, make the decision there and then to not say more, never reveal more and shut up. Little by little, we can feel less than, unnoticed, and so we close a little, shut down a little…until one day we say enough is enough and walk straight of the roof of the building where we worked.

      We are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively.

      When we recognise that we don’t listen well enough and start to learn how to do so, is the moment the world changes a little for the better.

      You never know when the person in front of you needs, really needs, to be heard, and now.


  4. 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.

    • Thank you Shelley for sharing your thoughts. Your first paragraph captures them beautifully well, just lovely.

      Your second paragraph moved me, thank you. As I became aware, started to understand and learn more about listening, I had the sense that it is fundamental to pretty much everything we do in work, at home, and in our myriad of personal relationships, especially with those closest to us like our partner and children. Even just putting down our technology, looking at them, giving them our full attention, and listening will transform the relationship in a moment.


  5. 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?

    • Goodness Noemi, what great insight. Lovely, how you noticed what was going on in you that was impacting the students and what you changed in yourself to make the difference, i.e. listening to the students and treating them as individual human beings, beautiful. I am sure it made their lessons much more enjoyable and inspiring for them and yourself.

      There is a valid saying, praise in public, ‘chastise’ in private. Even if I am making a complaint in a restaurant, I prefer to do so quietly…it is amazing how much better it feels afterwards.

      So, so true about technology getting in the way of connection. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology…we would not be able to share and connect the way we are doing without it. But, having a meal with loved ones and rather than talking, engaging, and being with each other, we would rather be messaging someone who is not there. Some of it is because we have never been taught how to listen and how to engage in conversation with another. Trouble is our role models… Are Members of Parliament offering us good examples of how to listen, collaborate, and connect?

      Regarding your last point, what I am noticing is that more of us and youngsters are looking for experiences to be done together rather than material goods. We need more of that I believe.


    • Thank you, Colin. So heartening to hear that a spiritual awakening is afoot. Let’s all rev it up all the more.

      Re politics, my view is purely Orwellian that is ‘politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.’ Consequently, MPs do not provide role model material. As Mark Twain observed: “Politicians are like nappies, they need to be changed often, and for the same reasons.”

  6. 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.✨✨✨

    • Hi there, thank you for adding your thinking into the conversation, it is appreciated. Yes indeed, the threes 🙂

      Thank you, I do care deeply about making a difference, and you never quite know where and when it may be needed. Today, in a long line for coffee, got into a conversation with a lady who shared she had mental health challenges. She continued to talk until we parted as I got my coffee, offering, “Thank you for listening”, and, “Oh, I didn’t ask you anything”. To which I looked into her eyes, smiled and said that it was all okay. She knew I meant it without the words.

      I have no idea what difference I made, but that is not important, that she was able to share with me is enough.

      The more we can pay attention to each other, or listen first, huge differences can be made.


  7. 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.

    • Thank you Laura, I am glad you found it…or did it find you? The reason I asked is that the book I have just read and love, by the way, Lost Connections, definitely found me, ina converted telephone box, now a local library, and it stood out. So true what you say about the Gottman research, those small acts, mount up and make a big difference. Like all the elements that make up what I call The Relationship Journey. Each one can stand-alone, and the more elements that you practice and put into action will have a compound effect. Colin

  8. 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!

    • Thank you Mary for your thoughts, much appreciated. Love the debate question…and wondering how our personal answer changes over time, both ways. And also the individual interpretation of the two words. My sense is that a leader who gives attention first gets attention afterwards, listen first, listen always. Colin

  9. 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!

    • Wow, Laura, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I must admit being drawn in by some of your metaphors and noticing how peaceful it all feels. How can I still and quieten myself such that I can see and hear the person in front of me? And when I do, I smile at how the Universe responds accordingly. Blessings, Colin