The Greatest Gift
Updated: Apr 5, 2019
It’s been a hectic few weeks – moving into a new office space, temporary staff, conferences and events, teaching, getting kids ready for spring break, etc. A little bit of my own March Madness!
Looking back through the madness though, I have found comfort in knowing there has been some small victories through it all, and it was for one reason.
Thich Nhat Hahn said, “The greatest gift you give is your attention.”
Our attention can make or break us with many things. It makes the difference in our relationships, in our work, and in ourselves.
I founded a service business 17 years ago, and as we’ve hired individuals, I’ve shared with them that the key to success is in where we put our attention – attention to detail, attention to the client, attention to what clients think is important. For example, one of my clients holds a variety of programs that involve both education and some fun. What’s most important to this client is the attention we give to those in attendance. The goal is to make them feel special. We remember names and we score big points doing unique things that make them feel special, adding special touches and surprises where we can. If it feels like “just another event”, it’s not a success.
Big data is all about attention as well. Companies work to gather enough information so you feel like they know you better than any other company. If they can make you feel special, if the company can somehow connect with you, you will be more likely to buy from them. That is why you get personalized emails, why you get suggestions for similar products, why you get that follow-up message when you haven’t completed your purchase. “Kimberly, we noticed you have these leggings in your cart and the sale on them ends today. We didn’t want you to miss out!” It’s why hotels ask if you like fluffy pillows and low floors or high. It’s why the folks checking you out from your gym tell you happy birthday. Companies know paying attention to you is a gift they must offer to get you to come back.
Let’s bring the concept of attention closer to home…What is one of the first things we do when we don’t care for someone? We ignore them. We don’t respond to the text, we don’t call back, we don’t reply to an email. If attention is the greatest gift, then the lack thereof is the greatest insult. So when we need to repair or further develop a relationship, we give the other person our attention. We notice the new shirt or shoes; we notice what they eat and ask about their day. And without a doubt, attention is just as critical in maintaining relationships. Admittedly, close relationships are often pushed aside because we think they will always be there. The kids will still be at home and the spouse as well. Many will share that’s not a safe assumption. The last couple years, when I was traveling a lot, I tried to make sure when I was home, my attention was on my family, even if it meant waking at 5am to answer emails for an hour before the rest of the house got up. A 2014 survey reports that kids think “parents are too distracted to listen.” In a 2015 survey one third of kids said their “parents spent equal or less time with them, than on their devices.” More recently, The Atlantic reported in its 2018 article, The Dangers of Distracted Parenting, “when it comes to children’s development parents should worry less about kids’ screen time – and more about their own.” Ouch.
A couple Saturdays ago, my hubby and I had a day to ourselves. I knew it was important to him, so the schedule was wiped clean. No work. No errands. Just him. Look, I realize when you’re crazy busy it can feel like any ounce of energy toward another person is exhausting and misguided. But let me tell you from personal experience, those five minutes or hour will reap a multitude of benefits. The kids smile at you again. Your friends feel like you’re on the same page. Your spouse is glad you’re still together.
Finally, let’s not forget about ourselves. I’ve said in several of my yoga classes that we often get angry when our bodies don’t do what we want – they get sick, or don’t feel strong, they don’t bounce back from an injury like we hoped, or don’t seem to be as quick or flexible as they should. “Why isn’t my body performing the way I want it to?” we ask ourselves – truly baffled. But consider whether you’ve ever asked yourself why. Do you give your body the attention it needs? How often have you pushed off sleep even when you were exhausted? When was the last time you made an unhealthy food choice, like grabbing sugar instead something that would sustain you through the afternoon? Have you been moving your body through exercise and other activities regularly? (No, walking to your car or the airport gate doesn’t count. Neither does throwing the ball to your energetic dog instead of taking him for a walk.) What about being mindful of triggers that set you off and make you irritable – taking it out on those who don’t deserve your wrath, instead of using mindfulness to drive a wedge between that trigger and your response? When was the last time you actually breathed fulfilling breaths, instead of those shallow, nervous, stressed out wisps of air?
“The greatest gift you can give is your attention.”
You carry with you a powerful weapon – your attention. You choose what is gifted and what is ignored. I’m certainly not perfect; I can quickly be accused of all the negative things above. They’re easy examples because I’ve done them myself, and have learned some hard lessons as a result. So today I invite you to pay some attention – to yourself and to those you have relationships with (and wish you had better relationships with). Start there. I’m pretty confident that if relationships are strong and you're taking care of yourself, the work and any resulting data will start to work itself out just fine.