What you pay attention to matters

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

If you wanted to save money while going to college, a feasible way was to live with your parents. It made complete sense — free food and rent, but at the expense of your mental health (kidding of course, but my mom didn’t make it easy). One of the things that always got her riled up as that the apartment wasn’t clean. It certainly wasn’t obsessive, instead, it was selective and dependent on who was causing the mess. I had the fortune of receiving the brunt of the barrage of words whenever the house was messy. I noticed that even when the apartment was clean, she would look for reasons to clean or find why it wasn’t cleaner1. Observing my mother would teach me the valuable lesson that whatever you pay attention to is what decides your thoughts and behavior, and ultimately, it’s what matters.

Who you surround yourself with

You’ve probably heard of this age-old saying of “who you surround yourself with is who you are”, or “you’re the average of the people you hang around with”. All are true but as I inspect these statements, I noticed that all forms of mimicking start with the eyes, or what you pay attention to. When you’re around people, especially consistently around the same groups of people, you pay attention to their behavior — how they say things, how they react to things, their gestures, mannerisms, and more. It’s a natural tendency to copy these people because you want to fit in. For example, if the cool guy in the group smokes, you probably want to smoke too because you don’t want to stand out. It’s almost a guarantee if everyone around you smokes. From watching what’s considered the norm or what is “successful” to the group, you’re now hyper-aware of it.

Bruce Lee puts it best:

As you think, so shall you become.

Another interesting conundrum is when you’re aware of such actions and repeat them over time, you won’t be aware that you’re doing it. It reminds me of when my college classmates would brand themselves “open-minded thinkers” but would shut down opinions that didn’t agree with their viewpoints. I didn’t have the courage (or the motivation) to call them out, but another classmate did. She told them it was contradictory of them to say such things but act in another manner. To their credit, they didn’t realize they were doing it. It was a rare moment of a critical situation that ended civilized.

Even if you were put in a “successful and highly motivated group”, your focus will still be in an echo chamber. We need to understand that if we put all of our eggs in one basket, we limit our perspective to only one group. Sometimes, it works out, but the lack of diversity in perspective, conversations, and behaviors means we lose out on potential ideas and viewpoints. There are many ways to cook a steak but if we are only aware of cooking it on a pan, we lose out on so much more.

Diversify

Similar to an investment portfolio, you can hedge risks by diversifying by investing in a little bit of everything. If there is a crisis, your losses won’t be as big since you will have some stocks that will be higher performance and can mitigate the lower performing stocks. If you pick too many stocks with the goal to diversify, then you won’t gain as much. The goal is to own several great companies and to have more shares of each2. I find it to be the same as what you pay attention to. Too many, and you’re overloaded with information which will lead to analysis paralysis or lack of meaningful data. Too few, and you lack the necessary information to make meaningful decisions.

It’s imperative to not get “lost in your own sauce”, or not get caught up with what you pay attention to and take time to self-analyze. Every good process requires some due diligence and detachment in order to see if you should continue giving it your attention.

It’s hard to see whether something is worth giving long-term attention to, but a good rule of thumb I used is if it starts affecting goals that I’ve set, I must tread carefully and adjust as necessary or make the conscious decision to stop. A time when I had to tread carefully and stop a behavior came from realizing that I’m not spending enough time learning, especially at night. So I focused on watching videos and reading with the goal of accumulating knowledge. I tested out for a few weeks and noticed because I’ve been staying up late, it has now affected my sleep and my performance throughout the day. My ability to retain information was also affected and it wasn’t as beneficial to stay up as late. I’m currently modifying this behavior so that I’m able to learn, but get an adequate amount of sleep.

Some behaviors need modification, and some require a complete halt. One of my friends was known for being the “clown” of the group. He made it his mission to make everyone laugh, and it would turn a bad day into a great day. What made it worse was when he started to realize he would get the most laughs from making jokes about people’s appearances and behaviors. It started off as a light joke, but soon escalated to heated discussions and even crying. We had to talk to him that it was no longer a joke and that people’s emotions were being affected. We told him he could still make the group laugh but there wasn’t a need to take it so far. He didn’t take it too lightly but understood that you can’t cross that line. It was the classic case of chasing your high. For my friend, it felt amazing to make his friends laugh. The more we laugh, the more we would reinforce his behavior.

So what do you pay attention to?

Honestly, anything good can turn into bad if you’ve obsessed over it, same with the opposite. The stigma of too many video games being bad has changed since you can make a career out of it. The same could be said for working out, too much and you’ll wear your body out or go down the road of performance-enhancing drugs.

I would recommend any type of system that allows you to self-check, self-regulate, or self-question. The challenge is finding something that allows you to objectively criticize what you’re doing and modify or test it for peak performance. I would even suggest having someone that you trust check on your periodically. Perhaps someone with no skin in the game because someone with no experience can ask you the simplest questions which will then require you to explain your methods. Personally, I find it most difficult to not justify or get emotional whenever someone asks me those questions. But it’s a reminder to step back and see if it makes sense to continue.

True to the phrase, you will definitely PAY depending on what you focus on. There’s already a cost so make it worthwhile and positively life-changing.

Have a great week,

Scott

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1 I talked to her about this and it stemmed from her mom acting the same way. The goes for my grandma’s mom, so it was generational. She has been doing it for so long that it has been ingrained in her. I knew I couldn’t change my mom so I moved out.

2 It goes without saying, but do your due diligence and seek out a financial professional.

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I write to get better at writing and to learn. IG: stayingkonnected Podcast: Staying Konnected

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The Kontent - Scott Nguyen

The Kontent - Scott Nguyen

I write to get better at writing and to learn. IG: stayingkonnected Podcast: Staying Konnected

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