What is Attention? | Emily Hightower

Issue #13

 

A late middle English word worth 9 Scrabble points, “attention” is defined first and foremost as:

notice taken of someone or something; the regarding of someone or something as interesting or important”

The similes for “attention” include: 

Awareness, Notice, Observation, and CONSCIOUSNESS

Our attention is the currency of our consciousness. When we PAY attention we are in a transaction with the objects of our consciousness that reciprocate something in return.

If you pay attention to cleaning and resetting your rooms throughout the day, you get a tidy space in return. Pay attention to your finances and you can generate wealth. Pay attention to your breath, body, and what’s right for you and you create more health.

If it’s that simple, why are we experiencing declines in mental, physical, emotional, financial, and interpersonal health?*

Our economy now relies on grabbing people’s attention to get us to spend our time (ourselves) in front of platforms with ads to hopefully buy more and more things we don’t actually need or even want. The more things we buy, the more things need our attention. The more distracted we are, the less we notice what’s right for us and the more uncomfortable with our reality we become. Enter more distractions to avoid reality. If we don’t have agency over our attention, we spend it on things that are not actually ‘important’ and lose ourselves, our values, and our health along the way.

To regain agency over health in this era, we need to reclaim our attention. This requires skill. 

There are many forms of attention from the perspective of your neurophysiology. For example; you can be hyperfocused on something acute like giving a talk or driving on ice, casually attending to something like stirring noodles, dispersed and distracted switching from things every few seconds, spaced out watching TV, or globally aware in a state of deep meditation and healing. Can you ‘read’ the difference in yourself? Social media, for example, takes our attention in a dispersed and distracted way that can drain reserves of attention for important things like in-person relationships.

Are you AWARE that the average person in will spend over 5 years and 4 months of their life on social media** If you’re in that average, what are you getting in return for that time and attention spent? Is it worth it? Would you take back any of those years if you could in the end? Why? What’s MORE important that you’re missing through the disconnected drain of the attention economy’s grip?

Our attention is a finite resource that ebbs and flows based on our energy systems. If you know how to read where your attention is going and how to direct these energy systems you can generate rewarding states of health and sustainable balance despite the noise of modern life. You can reclaim yourself.

Our SH//FT HEALTH program helps you Master Time and Attention: the most valuable currencies in modern life.

 

With Breath,

Emily Hightower


 

Sources:

*https://www.mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america

**https://www.slicktext.com/blog/2019/10/smartphone-addiction-statistics/

Embrace The Dark | Emily Hightower

Issue #11

This week’s Solstice is an undeniable bookmark in the seasons. It’s a holiday that doesn’t require any stories or religions to understand. We’re in the darkest week of the year with the 21st being the longest night. Every living thing in the North knows it’s time to hunker down. Except us.

We keep the lights on and the cities humming! We fight the dark with pills to give us energy and calendars to keep us ‘on schedule’. Meanwhile we miss an opportunity to go with the dark, and in the dark there is power.

Darkness gives everything a chance to go inward; to slow down, be more silent, and tune in to our real needs. All of nature aligns with this strategy. What grows and survives in the spring belongs. If we don’t take time to tune into the darkness we risk investing in and growing things (ideas, behaviors, relationship patterns) that do not belong anymore in our lives. Rest and reflection is vital to create awareness and balance.

The work of Dr. Thomas Wehr challenged everything about our beginnings into the avoidance of the dark in the 1990’s. In his study after 3-weeks of removing all artificial light people returned to what we thought was lost or did not exist; a type of sleep that must have only existed during our paleolithic times. A deep reset into our biology, something we seek now through various interventions.

Our Hightower family marks the Winter Solstice with friends at a ranch nearby where our buddy collects enormous piles of deadfall all year just for the occasion. He’ll make a bonfire as big as a house. Dogs and kids will play in the snow around adults and elders and tables of food. No one can stop themselves from casually adding logs (and trees) to the fire. As it grows beyond reason, the contrast expands between the blaze and the dark winter night in every direction around us.

If people want they write down something on paper for the Solstice fire to take to the winds; as if burning it will digest it into form. But there’s no formal ceremony or rules to follow here. People just naturally start burning things, including ideas, emotions, habits, regrets. Some use the fire to mark what they are letting go of, some to claim what they’ll grow in the spring cycle.

We encourage you if you haven’t already to go inward this week. Start by noticing your artificial lights. If you dare, use candles and fire at night and let go of the screen time especially before bed. Be bored like the seeds hibernating in the soil right now. You might get tired sooner, wake up more rested. In the morning, let the dawn light come when it’s ready instead of rushing it in with screens and houselights. Be with the natural darkness and tune into yourself. Breathe. The morning darkness is an especially sacred time to reflect and write.

What would you like to ‘burn’ and let go of when you sit with the shadows? How would that make more space in your life?

What would you like to focus on and build with the coming lighter days?

No matter what your process is these shifts come through our nervous system. If you can pause and be with the dark long enough to listen your body will show you what it needs and wisdom percolates through. Being in deep states of meditation, sleep, or Yoga Nidra can facilitate these connections without words. Just trust your body, give it the dark inward time it craves. Allow what you choose to keep with you to grow slowly and surely with the coming light.

Enjoy Your SOLSTICE and HOLIDAYS!

Emily and Brian

The Path to Artistry | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #9

 

One of my earliest mentors Nicolas Romanov is a kind and crazy Russian Scientist who struggled to tell a lie. Crazy because all good things come in the form of such. He was a movement “guru” who had been bucking the running and triathlon scenes for some time with his ideas on movement– namely running. Whether he was right or wrong (or neither), this was the first person I could listen to in human performance as he wasnt really selling anything other than his time. He wreaked of kindness but could be as sharp as the Russian sickle. He lured me in with fancy talk on gravity and his simple analogies about human movement that everyone else was complicating. In a single afternoon, he also “magically” showed me why I was hurting myself when I was running and how to grow from that. He is a genius, and I paid my dues to learn. But, unfortunately, I also witnessed how the world treats people like this early in my career; praise and condemnation. 

Romanov was also the first person I remember talking about the universality of movement problems in public. I remember vividly the first seminar I took around 2000-2001 when he stated (paraphrased), “running is the ability to fall and that all problems in running more or less stem from the fear of falling”. Twenty years later, working with more than 10,000 athletes, I can find no other truth in what I too have seen. 

Although my work diverted from the endurance and running communities a bit, it has mostly stayed with the same theme, and I still work with enough varying people that runners and endurance come up often. Although, many might fall under the impression I am now teaching people about breathing, and they would be wrong. I am now simply looking at a deeper layer of the foundation. Breathing, as I’ve come to understand, is the deepest layer of our humanity, and thus everything centered around movement, psychology, and our physiology. Our unique nature with breathing is that we voluntarily and involuntarily have levers we can pull on as a result of this gift. Fundamentally this falls under the law of consequence; good, bad, or indifferent. 

One of the most common pieces I’ve worked through – and worked with people on – is our relationship to injury and health. Aside from blunt trauma – immediate assault on the body from being hit, hitting something, or landing poorly – all other movement-based injury is a byproduct of our relationship to movement; fear. In the case of blunt trauma, very few of us escape without a story or trauma built around the injury. In reality, movement is generally an expression of our internal state of affairs, and many of us are tied to our stories of who we were, are, or want to become. In the case of health and fitness, these same fears manifest themselves where our attention is most active. In either of these cases, this is an education about our nervous system, namely the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). And although this is about the SNS, there is definitely a deeper dive and other branches. 

Where attention goes, the SNS follows! The more attention I give to something, the more I activate the SNS, which is directly associated with mobilizing more energy toward this action. This activation of the nervous system drives what is called myelination, which is a process of reinforcing the “walls” of our nerves to make it easier to send signals (simplified). This was best described to me as thinking of using wire to send current, and the more rubber or plastic you have around the wire, the bigger the current, and the thicker the wire can get. We pattern everything from movement to our behavior in this simplified process. 

Creation is marvelous, and our biology is creativity and art at its finest. Oddly, it took me 40 years to recognize that this biological artistry has more to do with who and what I am than what I think I am, but I digress. The more attention my mind puts on anything my nervous system begins to reinforce this pattern to become so effective that it can seem as though I no longer need to think about it. In the case of motor control – and most of our behavioral patterns – we do not because we have made it so easy to send signals that we no longer need to consider where our feet go when we walk or react to something we have done the same way for years and even decades. This is precisely why frustration and the anger we experience with others and things is, well, so frustrating. We live under the idea (story time) that we are a victim to the reactions of our patterns, and it has to be them or it. 

For the vast majority of us to exist in today’s world is to battle with time or to be a slave to our calendars, schedules, and even assistants. The bad news is you are time; the good news is you are time. If I asked you to honestly list the #1 thing you do for your health I’d bet if we also took a real honest look at where most of our attention was being spent when we were participating in said #1 health goal, it would be anything but healthy. 

“What protocol or exercise can I do to help my HRV?”

Showing up, while it may be a part of the goal, what are we reinforcing when we are there? What are we thinking when we are around food or trying to rest and participate in the health journey? Am I on repeat every time I go to the gym to get it done, or do I follow the instructors’ cues without question? 

Here is the connection between our fear of falling and our relationship to movement and health. Rarely, and I mean rarely, are our beliefs aligned with where our attention goes, and this is the reality of how we ultimately feel about ourselves. This mismatch in actual wants and where our attention is is what we can call disconnection, and this is where the root of our problems exists. 

While this may read relatively easily, the entanglement is a different story. This is why we reinforce training as a practice. For some, this is easier stated than done. While we offer many free opportunities to explore this, this unspooling of patterns and reinforcement of new ones is the basis of the work we are providing in our mentorship programs, membership activities, and courses. The only path I care about is the path you find toward connection; how you get there is not important, but getting to this root is where our artistry lives and we are found.

x

Brian

All of the Time | Emily Hightower

Issue #8

According to physics, time is relative. But what does that mean? Thanks to a remarkable history teacher and her Navajo friend, I started asking this question in 5th grade.

Nancy Priest had two long gray braids, stood around 5’5”, and towered over our middle school egos. We loved and respected her because she expected a lot out of us. She didn’t use textbooks and memorization tests. She asked questions, told stories, created traditions, and made us think. Her connection to indigenous cultures informed her style.

Nancy and her husband Ben had established a warm friendship with several Native American tribes including the Navajo and Hopi Nations. I was among a lucky group who took an extended class trip with them to the desert southwest. Along the journey we made traditional fry bread in a remote canyon where a Navajo Elder gathered us by a fire.

The Elder said time is hard to explain to modern people who think time is linear. The Navajo language has no verb tenses for past and future. We don’t separate time, he explained. Time is always now. We were totally confused, so he asked us to think about what one minute means. He said one minute is not linear, it’s relative. One minute with your hand on a hot stove is not the same as one minute kissing someone you have a crush on. Amidst the squirms and giggles a jolt of “a-HA” struck me. If a minute wasn’t a minute, what was it? It wasn’t 60 seconds anymore. It was now.

It’s impossible with my cultural conditioning to fully understand how the Navajo traditionally experienced time. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was about speed creating changes to time, and I imagine if he and the Navajo had a fireside chat they would have enlightened one another. One thing is clear; our modern culture relates to time in destructive ways.

For the future, we put time into linear blocks on a digital screen. We tuck time into these blocks to scale and produce incredible things that we hardly experience as we fixate on more productivity for an imagined future. People literally eat while pooping to get more done in less time, missing out on both wonderful parts of the day! When we feel present long enough to notice, we skip around screens to distract ourselves. We have scaled time to speed it up so much that we never have enough. We’re so worried about being ON time that we’re never IN time.

When it comes to the past, Nancy Priest said history doesn’t tell us what happened, it tells us about who is telling it. History is subjective; we can only see it from the present edition of ourselves. When you think about your past you get a real-time physiological response based on how you feel about what you think happened. In this way the past isn’t fixed, it’s relative to your present. What does your story about your past say about you today? How can you use your body’s signals in real time to understand what it currently means? Can you work with that using breath, the ultimate way to be here, now?

The past and the future are not written, they are created today relative to our ability to be present with what is.

By questioning how we relate to time we can show up with awareness to behave with integrity to our values and the reality of this moment. How does that change your relationship to your history? How would it shift your relationship to your perceived future, which only emerges from how well you show up in this time, now?

It’s hard to be present ‘all of the time’ unless we realize there is no time other than now. Maybe the indigenous people of the planet can help show our ‘civilized’ culture how to be in time more fully. Maybe that could help us manage the diseases of behavior and disconnection we are suffering from with more skill.

Brian and I are cooking up some incredible resources to help. Sign up to be the first to know when we release a renewed version of Mentorship very soon….

In Time,

Emily Hightower

So-Cal Re-Actions | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #5

Most mornings, you will find me in the ocean off the coast of Southern California.

I was born and raised in Southern California and like most people living along the coast, I spent my childhood and youth in the water body-surfing, boogie-boarding, surfing, swimming, you name it. I went through junior lifeguards, played water polo, was on the swim team, and even created training programs in the water.

Having lived in more places than I care to count, one thing has always remained true: I feel most at home in or near the ocean.

Water has a calming effect on the body – it changes our perception of gravity and creates compression that can help muscle recovery and circulation. Have you ever experienced a sensory deprivation float tank? Or been in a hyperbaric chamber (although this uses pressure, the pressure mimics what water does)?

Recently, I had the opportunity to bring one of my high-profile / high-stress clients (the two seem to go hand-in-hand) through some water training for the first time. It was a profound experience for him and probably one of the best first sessions I have had in a while.

His “ah-ha” moment sounded something like this:

 When I am about to panic underwater, if I relax, I can get through the exercise

 So… what I am getting out of this is that I can apply this breathing stuff to help me relax by using it throughout my day

 and I can do this when shit’s hitting the fan, and I should expect the same thing.

That is precisely the point.

However, it’s not always easy to recall what to do and implement in a “crisis.”

Just like I’ve trained countless repetitions to perfect the skill of an Olympic lift, or similarly, a professional athlete has repeated the same movements thousands of times over for it to become second nature (take the swing of a pro golfer, look at how a pro fighter moves, or any Olympic athlete), we need to train our ability to respond as opposed to RE-ACT in the same capacityAfter all, what are we training for?

I write re-act to show you that it is a re-action of a previously learned behavior. Although we all have this tendency, myself included, I know these re-actions rarely benefit me.

Where does this behavior come from? – This is a deep seated process that I help the athlete/client identify. It is a lot easier to write or speak about it than it is to have the desire to grow from it. The simplicity of this process is called exposure; however, the process is not so simple for most of us.

For those willing, we work through this deeper process (practice), making the unconscious conscious… and you’re probably not going to be surprised, but it starts with your breathing.

Ready when you are,

– Brian

How well are you going to tolerate stress today? Access our breath calculator below.

Do this assessment every day for a week at the same time or throughout your day, and see if you can connect the changes.