Be Careful What You Pay Attention To

Jan 21, 2014 1 Min Read

Ralph Waldo Emerson was once asked what people would do if the stars came out only once every thousand years.

He responded, “If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years, how man would marvel and stare.”

He was right. We would stay up all night watching and wondering. But the stars come out every night, and so we watch television. Brains habituate.

It’s that time of the year when legions of grads are moving out into “the real world”.

If I was to give them one piece of advice, it would be that you don’t need my advice. You really don’t.

Instead, pay attention to your attention. Because you become what you pay attention to.

What captures your attention controls your brain, and your life.

David Foster Wallace put it this way, “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.

“It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.

“Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Here is the challenge: Your attention is so closely connected to your brain’s wiring that it becomes difficult to be aware of and to recognise your own pattern of giving attention.

Patterns have been wiring into your brain since birth. Change your attention, change your life. This sounds difficult, except it’s not. You can mindfully wire your brain to do this.

Looking for a place to begin? Start listening to people. Really listening. Most people never get listened to. Listen to understand, not just to respond.

With practice you will find your brain becoming more flexible and more open to new ideas. And that enriches all of us.

Congratulations, graduates. Go make someone else’s life extraordinary.

Remember, “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” – George Washington Carver

Congratulations on learning something about your brain today. The Brain Bulletin is committed to help to do just that.

Always remember: “You are a genius!” Enjoy your brain.

Terry Small is a brain expert who resides in Canada and believes that anyone can learn how to learn easier, better, faster, and that learning to learn is the most important skill a person can acquire. To interact with Small, email Click here for more brain bulletins. 

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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