For years, teachers have been telling students to “Pay Attention!” If you weren’t sure what this meant, don’t worry! You weren’t alone. Even the great Bryan “The Kid” Callen was confused by this as a child. As he once joked, “what does pay attention mean? You want me to squint?!?”
In fact, attention is like your brain’s spotlight. You can put it on anything. You can focus on the words of wisdom coming from Bryan’s face or you can put your attention on his flawless skin.
Actually, if you ever found yourself in Bryan’s presence, your attention would probably be on yourself. You’d be SO self-conscious. What do you say to impress the Emperor of the #Callenphate?!? And that would be a missed opportunity because if your attention is on what to say, it’s not on Bryan’s words. You’re literally missing out on pearls of wisdom. And that, ladies and gentlemen, reveals something super important about my brain, your brain and everyone’s brain. It can only be on one unautomated thing at a time.
Let’s do a little thought experiment:
Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?
Could you walk, chew gum, and talk to your friend on the phone about what you’re wearing to prom?
Of course! Great.
Could you walk, chew gum, talk to your friend on the phone about what you’re wearing to prom…and read Huckleberry Finn at the same time?
In order to sort of pay attention to your friend and kind of get the meaning of the book, you need to switch your attention between the two tasks. That means you’re not going to be dealing with either of the tasks well. Your attention can only deal with one unautomated task at a time. The idea that your attention can multitask is a major myth. The key is putting your attention on thing so you automate them. Over time, you can move your way up to automating really complex tasks. In The Straight-A Conspiracy, Katie O and I compare attention to the boss. The boss manages what is getting automated.
As a little kid, you start off automating your ABCs and then when you no longer really need to think about that you can move the spotlight that is your attention to sounding out simple words. Then, when that’s automated, you can move your attention onto automating the next thing and on and on. Over time, you can build to automating so many of the fundamentals that you become the best in the world at what you do.
To get to Bryant/Bryan level skill takes not only a buttload of hours it takes managing your attention to make sure you’re working on automating exactly what needs work. So, what should your attention be on? What’s not working. Effective practice focuses on mistakes!