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When I meet a client for the first time, their biggest surprise is the realization that they haven't turned up! And, even as you read this article, you're only partly here yourself. Research carried out over a protracted period of time in both the US and Europe strongly suggests that your mind is stuck in your own personal version of Groundhog Day. Today, your mind will play host to approximately fifty thousand random thoughts. Ninety seven percent of them will be the same as the fifty thousand thoughts you had yesterday. Tomorrow, ninety seven percent of your thoughts will be the same as today's.
Consequently, as you go about your day today, as you do your work, chat with your friends, pick up the kids, sit down for a meal or watch the TV, only one percent of you is there - the rest of you is lost in thought. Now, that wouldn't be so bad if some of those thoughts are productive. But, in the main, they're quite the opposite. They are thoughts that bubble to the surface from the depths of your subconscious mind - the part of you that dictates your behaviour and, consequently, creates your version of reality. That version of reality, however, has nothing to do with what's going on right now. How could it, you're not here! Instead, you reality is constantly and remorselessly being driven by a subconscious mind that is living in your formative years. Whilst all this is going on, your life is simply passing you by.
It's very difficult to get anything out of life if you haven't mustered enough energy to bother yourself to turn up to your own life. And, yet, as you crawled out of bed this morning, whilst your body made a heroic effort to wake itself up, your mind stayed fast asleep. As you've gone about your business today you've been drifting automatically through a dreamworld created by your own inner thoughts and limiting beliefs - an experience much better described as something approaching a nightmare. And that's what has your life in the state it's in. That's what has our world in the state it's in. And, even if you think you're already experiencing a degree of success in your life, it's still just a pale shadow of what would be possible if you could just wake up.
And waking up is all that it takes. Funnily enough, if you wake up, you'll be alert to life's opportunities. You'll be more alert to what needs to be done to handle life's challenges. And you won't find yourself burdened by the imaginary challenges that our dormant minds normally toss in our direction... fear, worry, anxiety, stress, depression, low self-esteem. The list is endless and I'm quite sure that you have your own! It's worth noting, for example, that stress only exists in the mind of the person who thinks that they are stressed. If you were to stop paying attention to the particularly useless thoughts that create stress, you would realise that stress is not.
And therein lies the secret to living - successful living, yes - but, for starters, simply living as distinct from existing. To wake up, you've simply got to pay attention. As people burdened with a normal adult mind, we have become accustomed to paying attention to nothing at all. Our minds are hardwired to ensure that we don't have to pay attention to the habitual. However, sooner or later, everything in life becomes habitual so, in the end, we end up paying attention to nothing at all. As I said earlier, we fail to turn up to our own lives.
Neuro-psychology has charted the correlation between paying attention and being happy and successful. And, although happy and successful can mean very different things to different people, I am sure that you would agree that these are things that might just make a major difference in your life! Simply put, the more attentive you are, the more focused you will be, the more effective you will become and the more open you will be to new opportunities.
So, how do you learn to pay attention if you've spent all of your adult life paying little or no attention to anything at all? It's easy - there are things all around you at this very moment in time that you can use to redevelop the innate childhood ability that we all had to give our undivided attention to what is simply going on right here, right now. Find somewhere quiet to sit. Close your eyes. It sounds like someone has turned up the volume. You can suddenly hear birds chirping, or traffic whizzing past in the distance. You can hear the hum of the air conditioning, the whirr of your laptop's hard disk. You are suddenly alive to all the things that are going on all the time anyway - it's just that you have never been there to experience them.
You've five senses - and you need to come to them. Play around, in quiet moments, with tuning in all five senses to what is actually happening here and now. For it is in these seemingly innocuous quiet moments that you will begin to turn yourself on, turn up to your life and change its very course.
Willie Horton is an Irish self-help and personal development author and trainer. He has been working as a personal and leadership development consultant since he set up his own practice in 1996. His many clients include Pfizer, Deloitte, Allergan, KMPG, Nestle, Diageo, ESB and DHL - where he works with senior management helping them be more effective, successful and happy.