I have been thinking a lot lately about busyness and paying attention. As summer transitions towards fall, a lot of families are adjusting to new schedules and a more stressed, less relaxed attitude. I think people generally know that it is good to pay attention to your partner and/or kids (for a more detailed look at paying attention in romantic relationships, google “Gottman bids”) but it gets harder as stress and busyness increase. Paying attention sounds simple but isn’t easy. So this post is about one tip for making paying attention easier with a few suggestions for how to get the most out of it.
The tip: Make a ritual out of paying attention and connecting.
Ritual is not a common word these days but I use it because one of its definitions is “an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time” (Merriam-Webster). I think of a ritual as like a conscious habit with a specific goal and find that to be a very useful concept. Willpower is like a muscle in that you can strengthen it over time and in that, when you use it, it is weaker for a while and takes time to recover its strength. Rituals are a way to reduce over time the willpower needed for a specific task as it becomes the automatic option. As much as possible, we want to make paying attention to and connecting with our loved ones something that isn’t dependent on how many hard decisions we have already made that day.
The details (this applies to kids as well, just replace “work” with “school” and “partner” with “kid”):
Come up with a time before or after work to regularly connect with your partner about their day. If the time is before work, ask about what they are looking forward to about the day and what they are nervous about. If it is after work, ask about highlights and lowlights of their day. Listen and reply with empathy or shared excitement. Bonus points if you remember what they say and ask follow-up questions later. For the less verbose partners it might be helpful to ask more specific questions like: “Are there one or two things your looking forward to at work today?” or “Who was particularly annoying today?” It’s that simple. Do this for a few weeks and you will have a built-in point of connection with your partner without having to use your willpower to make it happen.