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Exploring Where Your Attention Really Goes

What we pay attention to shapes our lives. It shapes our mindset, and our mood, and our actions, and our decisions. Which is why it’s critical to pay attention to what you pay attention to.

In his book, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, author Austin Kleon quotes Spanish philosopher and essayist José Ortega y Gasset: “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”

Today, I’m sharing a list of six practical ways we can identify what we really pay attention to. Because so often we don’t even realize the information and images that we consume—and how deeply they affect us.

  • Set several alarms on your phone (clock or computer) for various times during the day, or for every hour or 30 minutes. When each alarm goes off, record what you’re paying attention to (what you’re looking at or listening to or doing); how it makes you feel; and whether it contributes positively or negatively to your day (and maybe to your life as a whole). Is it aligned with your core values and what you want for yourself?
  • Reflect on the different anchors of your day. That is, what are you typically doing in the morning, at lunch, at night? What are you doing when you first wake up? What about when you’re going to bed? What’s the first thing you look at as you open your eyes, and the last thing you see before closing them?
  • Examine your social media accounts. Who do you follow, and what posts do you typically focus on? That is, what posts do you tend to think about long after you’ve seen them? What thoughts pop into your head when you view an image and the caption? On Instagram, what posts do you save?
  • Jot down 10 to 20 things you believe to be true. This might be things you believe are true about yourself, such as what you’re capable of, what you can’t do, and what you deserve. This might be things you believe to be true about work or life, such as what hard work looks like, what success looks like, how you should handle different emotions, and the best way to deal with stress. Then think about how you’ve come to hold these beliefs. Who and what contributed to creating these beliefs? Family? Friends? Mentors? Books? Culture?
  • Reflect on what your inner critic says. Whose voice do you really hear? (It might be a combination of voices.) When does your inner critic shout? When is it quiet?
  • Reflect on what you’re reading. That is, what articles, blog posts, new stories did you read today? What books have you read in the last month? What else have you read? What information has stayed with you? How has it shaped how you see yourself, your relationships, and the world?

When you know what is influencing you, you can make intentional, thoughtful decisions about continuing to consume these things—or finding other information and images to focus on. Either way, it starts with opening our eyes to what we’re actually viewing and watching and internalizing.

Thankfully, that’s something we can absolutely do. And thankfully, we can choose to focus on what inspires, empowers, uplifts, and supports us. We can choose to focus on what adds to our lives, and what aligns with our deepest, most important values.

What is that for you?

Photo by Marina Vitale on Unsplash

Exploring Where Your Attention Really Goes

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2019). Exploring Where Your Attention Really Goes. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 May 2019
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