Do We Really Know the Meaning of Paying Attention to Something?

Do We Really Know the Meaning of Paying Attention to Something?
By Ahmad Amirali

Recently I watched a movie ‘Sherlock Holmes (2009)’ starring Robert Downey Jr. as Mr Holmes and Jude Law as Dr Watson along with a couple of other Hollywood stars. The plot of the movie spun around a character of Sherlock Holmes who is a fictional consulting detective in London 1880-1914 created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (GoodReads). Holmes is a master of disguise, reasoned logically to solve mysterious cases through his remarkable sense of observation and analytical skills. However, I am not writing this article to share you with my reflections about the movie; instead, I started wondering what the true art of paying attention to anything is? Or to be precise, do we really know what it means when we say ‘we are paying attention to something’?

As Samuel Johnson wisely said ‘The true art of memory is the art of attention’ and it seems quite legit in case of students when we, teachers and parents, keep reminding them to pay attention in the class because for us the key to success is ‘paying attention’. However, for a kid who doesn’t pay attention is always a mystery that how a person ‘PAYS’ attention to something that he/she don’t like at all (either a topic or a teacher😉😊). Well, jokes apart, when we say paying attention to something, most of the time we are meant to physical attentiveness or observation. According to Mehdi Ordikhani-Seyedlar, a machine learning engineer, attention is not all about what we are focusing on, but it’s also about what information our brain is trying to filter out (Source TEDx). In short, it’s not a matter of physically seeing; it’s a question instead of both seeing and observing.

Our brain has two ways to focus on something; overtly and covertly. The overt attention is noticeable attention when we physically roll our eyes focus on something. However, the covert attention is something which we do without rolling our eyes to something and instead allowing our brain to focus on that object (Study). Let’s take an example of driving a car, when we drive, we physically (overtly) concentrate in front of the vehicle but you also mentally (covertly) scanning the surrounding area without physically looking at them. Similarly, when you are at a friend’s gathering, where everybody is continually talking to each other and all of a sudden, your ears stood up after someone says your name. Now you started to pay attention. Research suggests that, when we pick up on one voice and ignore others, our brains somehow discard the information coming from additional sources.

It’s really remarkable to see how our mind basically manages the available information (physically/non-physically) and process it for us to make reasonable decisions. Therefore, when we assume that our students are not paying attention to our classes due to certain mischievous reasons, we simply ignore the fact that they are covertly attentive in the class and yet their minds are always getting loads of unprocessed information. The thing that needs to look after is how we, teachers and parents, make our kids aware of that unprocessed information. Simply sit with them, as their routine, their reflections, their stories about their boringness, punishment and their distracted attitude in the class. Somewhere in their sharing and reflections, you will find bits and pieces of the taught topic. This will assume that your kid was at least covertly attentive in the class. 😊

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