The first time I heard the saying time is the new money, some little glitch happened inside me because we’ve all spent time with people and doing things without actually giving them our full attention. Sometimes we give the things we’re doing no attention at all, which is when I realized that what’s even more important than money and time, is attention.
Adults have become desensitized to the experience of being with each other without giving each other full attention, but my children are not yet, and they make it loud and clear when I am giving them my physical presence but not my attention. This is not to say I could, or should, always give my full, undivided attention to them in every moment, but I think it’s worth being aware of the fact that I’m not, rather than pretending to myself or to them that I am.
The difference between time and attention.
Distinguishing between time and attention is important. My friend Varian Brandon pointed out to me that we talk about time and attention by asking how we spend time and pay attention. We do have some connection between the idea that these things are a kind of currency. I don’t think of it as a transaction exactly, but something is created by what we give our currency too—whether its money, time or attention. Everything requires something of us. We don’t reap the rewards of life unless we’re willing to give something. Sometimes that is in the form of money, by spending time to create money, sometimes it’s time itself, and sometimes it’s our attention.
The programs I offer cost money, but they actually cost more in attention. Where I truly see people reap rewards is that they are willing to give their attention. It’s not just about showing up with time, but a wholehearted attention to the work itself. I’ve found that the people who show up in this kind of way are also willing to give themselves and their own lives that kind of attention. What comes from offering attention is beautiful and nourishing.
I remember posting on Facebook about this concept, attention is the new money, and after posting, I immediately wondered whether that was right. I wondered whether it was actually connection that was the most valuable currency. But I think attention and connection are very deeply related to each other. When we give our attention to another human being, we create connection, simply through our attention. We can’t say connection is the most valuable currency without including attention as a fundamental piece of connection, because if we don’t give our attention to our relationships – with ourselves, our family, our intimate partner, our children, the earth – whatever we want a deeper connection with – those relationships suffer.
Attention is something we can offer at any moment.
Part of the beauty of distinguishing between money, time and attention is that attention is something we can give any time, and it often only takes a moment. We often resist offering our full attention because we are afraid we have to give it forever and we will be drained. But the truth is that when we turn our full attention to someone, or something, whatever is calling for our attention is often fulfilled quite quickly. Or, at the very least, we let that person, or experience, know that we cannot give them our full attention – with full attention!
Instead of half-listening to my son go on about Legos, and responding with a half-hearted, “mmmmm-hmmmm,” as I cook dinner, pack lunches, or do all the other things necessary to attend to his life, I have taken to turning directly to him and letting him know, “I am going to focus on dinner/lunch/etc… right now. I will let you know when I can listen with my full attention.” Doing this actually honors both of us more fully.
Give wholehearted attention, get a wholehearted life.
The degree to which we offer our attention is the degree to which we live a wholehearted life. If we give partial attention we get a partial life. It ends up fragmented. This happens on an overall life level, but also moment to moment. When we pause and give our wholehearted attention instead of treating every moment like a building block to a life we want someday, in that moment, our whole life is right there. We get the full experience in every moment we’re willing to do that. There is never a moment we have to ‘wait until’ – it is actually always already available to us. This doesn’t mean we have to do it in every moment, but that we can do that in any moment.
Determining what we value in life is important, and I think our attention is even more valuable than money or time. Taking the time and putting our attention on what matters leads us to living a wholehearted life. Watch the full video here: