So I chose — soon after I woke up this morning — the topic I wanted to attempt today. Soon after I made that decision, I wrote out the title “The Effect of Attention” and I thought — Whoa! That’s a huge topic. So I may just skirt the surface of this interesting topic today. We’ll see.
The inspiration to write about The Effect of Attention came from some aspects of the groups I’ve started at the hospital where I work. I wrote about these groups in this blog, on Day 13, as follows:
Here’s how these groups are different. People, once they are oriented to the structure and guidelines of the group, can attend when and how often they choose. If you were attending these groups, you would never know for sure who was going to be there when you showed up — you might know some people but other ones would probably be new. And, you’d have control over when and how often you attend. You could come once a week, once a month, whenever you wanted. You could book a space way ahead, decide to come spontaneously (if space was available), and cancel if you couldn’t make it.
(Hey! There’s another first! That is, I just quoted myself for the first time, here in the Blog of Living Non-Judgmentally.)
Anyway, so once people are signed up for these groups, they can attend as they please. And that means that at any particular group meeting, there may be lots of people and there may be very few people, or somewhere in the middle. And I’m just getting these groups going, so — inevitably — for some sessions, nobody may show up. Or ONE person may show up. And people may argue that one person is NOT a group, but, in order to keep the benefits of flexible scheduling, I need to allow for that possibility.
So this is the way I have dealt with all this. I make it clear to interested group participants — before they get into the group — how the attendance will vary. I assure them that the group is designed to work, no matter how many people show. And if one person shows up, that person will get a personal training session. (Sometimes I feel like I’m doing an infomercial when I’m talking about the groups. “No matter who shows up, satisfaction guaranteed! Wait, there’s still more! Act now and you might get THIS VALUABLE BONUS — 90-minutes of PERSONAL TRAINING with fabulous group therapists!”)
Anyway, this group model has been working well enough. However, I recognize that the number of people that show up to a session has an effect on the group members. For example, if very few people show up for a group, thoughts like these may very well occur to people:
Geesh! What the hell is going on here? Does the number of people here mean that something I said in a previous session made everybody stay away? OR does this mean that our group leader SUCKS? Eeeek!
And what if lots of people show up? If the number of group members seems like TOO MANY for a group (according to somebody’s personal judgment), these thoughts might occur:
Geesh! What the hell is going on here? Does that mean I won’t get a chance to talk? And with all these people, chances are greater that somebody is NOT going to like me (or I won’t like them)!! Eeeek!
(For those of you who are reading this blog regularly, if you noticed the distortion of mind-reading above, you get Bonus Points! However, as people often point out to me, sometimes our guesses about what other people are thinking might have validity. The antidote to mind-reading is reality testing, something I like to do, a lot.)
So, now, at this point in this post, I would like to circle back to the title of this blog: The Effects of Attention.
If somebody shows up for the group by themselves, they are going to get a hell of a lot more attention than if there are 12 other people in the room.
And I think we all have different levels of comfort with the amount of attention we receive. I’ve noticed that some of us are more self-conscious than others, and would do ANYTHING to avoid a lot of attention. And I’ve noticed — on the other end of that scale — that some of us LOVE attention. The more, the better.
I think I go up and down on that Attention Reaction Scale, depending upon a lot of things, including (1) my comfort with myself, (2) how deserving I feel of the attention, and many other factors. (See, I KNEW this was a big topic!)
And I’ll share with you a memory I had about this issue of attention, when I decided to write about this topic today. This memory came up because only one person did show up for a group yesterday, and I’m not sure how many will show tonight. (It looks like two people, so far, but because people can schedule until the last minute, so it may be more. Or even much more.)
Anyway, here’s the memory. About three years ago, I signed up for a 6-week yoga class that was offered for the staff at the mental health clinic where I was working. Now, I’ve never done yoga. And I have these judgments about myself, regarding my extreme lack of natural ability to engage successfully in Physical Exercise Classes of any kind. (These judgments might be related to my experience growing up. Because of my heart issues then, I did not take gym the entire time I was in school. And, as far as I heard from everybody else in my school, people thought I had Won The Luck Lottery, getting out of gym that way. But this had an effect, I’m sure. )
So the first time I went to the Yoga Class, I definitely had moments where I felt completely incompetent and self-conscious, because I just could not follow the Yoga Teacher’s instructions. And I compared myself to everybody else in that class, who all seemed to be doing it perfectly, as if I had missed a previously scheduled Dress Rehearsal on how to do the class. Yes, I remember feeling pretty awful at some points during that first class. And I didn’t want to go back.
I think I did go back several times and — again — I felt like I had missed the Dress Rehearsal for that class. When I tried to do the Dog Pose, everybody else looked like Pure-bred Golden Retrievers and I looked like a mangy mongrel. Actually, I don’t think I even looked like a dog, or any other living, breathing animal. I think I looked like an illustration of How Not to Do Yoga. (Well, what can I say? This happened three years before The Year of Living Non-Judgmentally.)
And I’m now approaching the end (and the point) of this story. I went to the last session of that 6-week yoga class, feeling kind of dejected and fearing the amount of shame I might feel that night. And I was the only one who showed up. And I had lots of thoughts, like, “Geesh! What does this mean? Does this mean other people don’t like this teacher? I don’t think so, but how is this going to effect the teacher? Is she going to take it personally? And how is that going to affect her tonight?” But while these thoughts were coming up, I also knew that a lot of the staff where I worked were dealing with lots of deadlines. And who knows what else might have been keeping people away? (Now that I think of it, I see this all the time: some people tend to avoid the last meeting of anything).
So, anyway, I remember consciously trying to let go of the anxiety I was feeling about being there, just me, with ALL of the Yoga Teacher’s Attention. And here’s the punchline: It was a wonderful experience. I got a lot out of it. I remember feeling safe enough with her that I got in touch with some old shame about my physical capabilities. And I cried. And I did the dog pose. And I looked enough like an actual mammal, if not a dog. And I felt fine and accepting of exactly where I was, Yoga-wise.
Wow, this was a long post, wasn’t it? I should warn you, dear reader: Thursday’s posts are probably likely to be longer, because I can go in to work a little bit later. I can go in later, because I stay late, running a group.
Gee! I wonder how many people will show up tonight?
Thanks for reading.