Learn to pay attention

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By Kevin Bretting

For the Laramie Boomerang Are you reading this article sitting down or are you standing? What’s your posture like? Are you eating something? Drinking something? If so, are you tasting it? If no, are you hungry or thirsty? Is your mind elsewhere or is it really thinking about these last couple of questions?

Those sort of questions bring awareness to your present state and what it is you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Developing a state of awareness can be a powerful skill to develop on a journey toward health and fitness. I recently listened to a great interview of Dr. John Berardi, co-founder and CEO of Precision Nutrition where he shared some insight about what successful dieters do. His first comment was successful dieters pay attention to what they eat. He coaches people to build that skill set by first asking them to pay attention to how long it takes them to eat their meals and coaches people to slow down. By learning how to slow down and pay attention, what he finds is that in the process of learning how to pay closer attention, people become aware of how long it takes them to eat, they become aware of how food tastes and feels, they become aware of how much they’re eating, that in different circumstances they eat different things, and gradually, by extension of paying attention, people begin to make more positive food choices.

I gained a lot of valuable insight from that interview and can apply the suggestion to “Pay Attention” to many other aspects of life. Since I am a movement professional, I recommend paying attention to movement. Pay attention to how often you move and become aware of how long you remain sedentary. Notice how well you move. How much range of motion can you achieve from major joint areas of your body such as your neck, shoulders, spine, hips, ankles and feet? Can you turn your head from side-to-side? Can you reach your arms over your head? Can you perform a full squat with your heels on the floor? Can you point your toes? Which arm do you put through your jacket first? Which leg of your pants goes on first? Paying attention to these details heightens your awareness of your habits and tendencies.

Exposing our habits uncovers who we are. Since what we do or don’t do on a consistent daily basis is responsible for our current state of health, paying attention can give you the chance to make changes or continue on course, depending on how satisfied you are with the results. Some of your habits might be great, like brushing your teeth, others might not be so great, like reaching for a snack just because it’s that time of day instead of asking yourself if you’re truly hungry.

With any attempt at behavior change, it is important to start small. Dr. Berardi, when counseling people to pay attention to how long it takes to eat meals, recommends adding just 4-8 minutes and committing to that change for a number of weeks to build that skill set. From a movement perspective, consider sitting all the way on the ground to put your shoes on or take them off and practice that skill for 2 weeks without trying to change anything else. Or add 2-4 minutes into your morning routine to stretch.

As with learning any new task, it takes repetition and practice to develop the skills necessary to complete the whole thing. If you don’t know how to fly an airplane, you wouldn’t just jump in the cockpit and try it one day and see how it goes. You would learn a progression of skills that eventually led to the complete task. So it is with the progression of lifestyle behavior changes. Start from where you are by paying attention to what you do to uncover your habits, then make little changes and master each change before moving on. It all starts by paying attention. Move well. — Kevin Bretting is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and business owner.

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