On Paying Attention

Photo by Brian Klutch/Getty Images

The other night I saw the documentary Deceptive Practice, about the life and work of Ricky Jay. In one scene, the magician describes spending a hot California afternoon on a bench with one of his mentors observing men who were about to enter a private club put on their blazers. They were there for a long time, just watching. As they discovered, no two people put on a blazer exactly the same way.

There are many reasons Ricky Jay is a genius, but one of them is that he really pays attention. He is able to focus for long periods of time on things that would make other mortals go insane with boredom. He knows that the little details are extremely important. He finds ways to use boring-to-the-rest-of-us information to make his work better. He appears to be immune to FOMO, a.k.a. Fear of Missing Out, a.k.a. The Acronym That Ruined Your Free Time.

Once a week, I work out with a patient, slightly sadistic trainer named Carey, who says things to me like “Now this time when you do this exercise, I want you to really think about your glutes.” Forget that I would rather not think about my glutes, ever. The fact is that when I actually think about my glutes when I am trying to lift too-heavy weights on the torture device that Carey calls a weight machine, I do feel I perform better.

If you are like me, you are not noticing men putting on their blazers. You are not thinking about the muscle you are trying to target. You are thinking about what you are going to have for lunch, or whether the thing you just said offended someone, or if you’re indeed going to miss your train because there’s a group of slow-moving tourists in front of you, gazing skyward and blocking the entire sidewalk! (OK, maybe that’s just me.) And as we’re keeping ourselves busy not paying attention, life is happening right before our eyes.

This month I’m going to make myself notice the blazers. The smell and the sounds of the city when I walk out of the office. The faces of the tourists (even if they are blocking my path to the train). And the feel of the key in my hand as I unlock the front door each evening. Look closely at things, register their value, be aware. Aware, and grateful.