The Worthy Art of Paying Attention
YEARS ago a five-year-old boy fell off a horse. For many years thereafter he suffered from an extremely poor memory. Yet he found a way to improve his memory so well that he eventually became a teacher. How did he do it? One thing that helped him immensely was his paying close attention to everything he wanted to remember. If he listened to a lecture, he attentively followed every word. When he studied, he noted every detail. He overcame his handicap to a great extent by means of the worthy art of paying attention.
We may not have a severe handicap like that boy, but we all can profit from the art of paying attention. So important is this art that some view it as indispensable for success in any endeavor. If, for example, we want to profit from reading something, we need to pay attention. Attention stimulates interest, and interest is the heart of both a good memory and the ability to concentrate.
Yet too often persons find that after they have read a paragraph of material they have almost no notion of what they read. They might read a passage over several times in a state of inattention and still not be able to repeat the sense of it. Does that ever happen to you?
If it does, what can be done? If the inattention is caused by tiredness, you may need sleep; then pick a time to read when you are not so tired. Or if it is fairly late at night, it may be that the material you are reading is too weighty; pick up some lighter material. Then, too, if you read with the desire to remember, it will help you to pay attention, and you will be able to remember much more of what you read. Repeating to yourself the main points of what you read also helps you to remember and keeps you mentally alert. And by thinking to yourself, Where can I use this material? and then reading with the thought of using it, you further develop the art of paying attention.
If one is in a lecture hall to listen to a teacher or speaker, he also needs to pay attention. Then he will get the most out of it. It will help to listen carefully from the very start, keeping one’s eyes on the speaker. Taking notes also helps.
Whatever we are doing, we need to learn to dismiss mental and physical distractions. We must not place a welcome mat before our mental door, as it were, offering hospitality to all things that would distract us. When distracting thoughts knock on the door, we ought to remind ourselves that we have no room for them in our mental home. And we can also learn to dismiss physical distractions, even such noises as the roar of the street, the ring of telephones and the din of typewriters and the whistling and humming of coworkers. These physical distractions need not claim us if we refuse to give them our attention.
Since definite benefits come from paying attention, what is the reason for the widespread problem of inattention? It is often just a case of paying attention too well to the wrong things. Hence, one must know what not to pay attention to. Many persons who are unable to remember much or who are said to be absentminded or who get little accomplished are simply suffering from a case of paying attention to the wrong things. Consider a student in school. Johnny may be staring out of the schoolroom window looking at the bright sunshine outside on the grass. The teacher notices his dreamy, faraway look and calls out sharply: “Pay attention, Johnny!” It may be that he is paying attention—to thoughts of going fishing or playing or other things he will do after school. He is paying attention, but to the wrong things.
This is the way it is with the person who is easily distracted. If that person is supposed to be listening to a speaker, he cannot really pay attention well to what is said if he is observing a dogfight through a window or is watching the clouds to predict the weather. His mind is wandering; he is paying attention to wrong things.
The world in general is that way. Their attention is occupied, but not with the matters that are of the greatest concern. They are like the people who lived before the flood of Noah’s day, “eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.” After using the inattention of those antediluvians as a warning example, Jesus Christ said: “So the presence of the Son of man will be.” (Matt. 24:38, 39) Do we pay attention to that warning prophecy?
It is necessary to pay even more than the usual attention to it, especially in view of its source. The writer of the Bible book of Hebrews pointed this out after showing that, while in times past God had spoken to them by means of the prophets, now he had sent his Son Jesus Christ as his spokesman. “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.”—Heb. 2:1.
Since Jehovah God exalted the Lord Jesus Christ “to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name,” the words of the Son of God carry special weight. So we need to pay “more than the usual attention” to this highest God-appointed Authority in the universe rather than to other persons and to what they say or write. And why is this so vital? Because our salvation is involved. “How shall we escape if we have neglected a salvation of such greatness in that it began to be spoken through our Lord?” We do not want to be found, then, paying attention to the wrong things, the way the world does, when salvation depends on paying more than the usual attention to what God’s Son has spoken.—Phil. 2:9; Heb. 2:3.
Yes, the worthy art of paying attention often means the difference between failure and success. And especially when it comes to the matter of whether we gain God’s approval for salvation. It hinges on paying attention to the Son of God, responding to God’s commandments spoken “through our Lord.” Since this means your very life, pay more than the usual attention.