Improving Your Capacity for Attention, Resilience, Intentionality & Imagination in Four Minutes Each Hour

Recently I described a four-minute exercise to try to improve my posture, breathing and attention skills. Using a watch set to beep at five minutes to each hour, I did this, an average of eight to ten times per day, for the first three weeks of this month:

  • Self-awareness: check and correct your breathing, your posture; assess your physical comfort, your emotional happiness, your level of intellectual engagement for what you’re doing, and your energy level. Let-Self-Change as appropriate. (1 minute)
  • Nourishment: drink a glass of water, and whatever other nourishment you assess you need. (1 minute)
  • Attention: pay attention and open yourself to where you are, all your senses, and what’s going on around you; make sure you’re paying appropriate attention to the people and animals in your presence; make sure your current work/play environment is healthy. (1 minute)
  • Flexibility & Resilience: do three cat stretches (upper body) and three hamstring stretches (lower body); slow yourself down, let go of whatever you were doing, be in the moment, and ensure you are simply enjoying the passage of time. (1 minute)

Everybody I described it to loved the idea, and quite a few people I know have tweaked it and adopted it themselves. After three weeks of experimentation, I refined and enhanced it to work even better.

The first problem I had with the program above was that within a couple of minutes of checking my breathing and posture I had reverted to entrenched bad habits again (breathing too rapidly and shallowly through the chest; slouching, whether sitting or standing). Once an hour wasn’t enough of a reminder to really make a difference. So now I’m trying another tack with continuous reminders: Each morning I put a piece of tape on my back, just below the collar of my shirt where it’s not visible. Whenever I hunch over or strain my head forward (and often at other times when I shift position, stand up or sit down or move my head to look at something) I feel it, very lightly. That’s my cue for a two-second check and correction of my posture and my breathing. So far it’s working like a charm, though whether I’ll be able to eventually wean myself off the tape remains to be seen.

And, having written recently about the power of both imagination and intentionality, I’ve added a step to my hourly routine to exercise these capacities. With a bit of reshuffling, the four minute self-improvement program now looks like this:

  • Attention: (1 minute)
    • pay attention and open yourself and all your senses to where you are and what’s going on around you; 
    • self-assess your physical comfort, intellectual engagement, and emotional happiness; make sure your current work/play environment is healthy; drink a glass of water, and get whatever other nourishment you assess you need;
    • connect: make sure you’re paying appropriate attention to the people and animals in your presence. 
  • Resilience: (2 minutes)
    • upper body stretches: do cat stretches and neck/shoulder exercises;
    • lower body stretches: do hamstring, abdominal and balance exercises; 
    • let go of stress: slow yourself down, draw yourself away for a moment from whatever you were doing, and do whatever relaxes you, to relieve both ambient stress and any recent ‘surprise’ stresses that are still lingering.
  • Intentionality & Imagination: (1 minute)
    • set your intention: think about what you want to achieve in the next hour (exception: when you first awake, think about what you want to achieve more than anything else in the current day; just before you go to sleep, think about what you want to achieve more than anything else in your lifetime, and what might be the next simple step to achieving it);
    • imagine its realization: imagine the end result, and the joy and accomplishment it will bring to you and others (and don’t think or worry about the process of getting there).

It was only after I’d been doing this three-step program for a day or two that I realized it’s a compressed version of the ‘presencing’ process illustrated in the graphic above: Attention is about sensing, Resilience is about letting go, and Intentionality & Imagination are about realizing, envisioning and letting come.

It’s early, but so far it seems to be working. I don’t worry about skipping the process in hours when I’m in the middle of something, so in 18 waking hours per day I probably do this routine 8-10 times.

I know some people have commented that this seems onerous, too self-demanding, and say I need to give myself a break and stop pressuring myself to ‘improve’. But I don’t find this process onerous at all. It’s only a half-hour total commitment per day, and because it’s only four minutes at a stretch it goes quickly. And the exercises, far from adding to the list of the day’s ‘work’ activities, actually seem to save me time by making the other 56 minutes of the hour more productive.

This seems to fit well, also, with my greatly streamlined Getting Things Done process and list, now that I’ve removed all the ‘urgent unimportant’ tasks from the list. In fact, because the list is so short and everything on it is important to me, I need only glance at it once (first thing each morning) to remind myself of appointments and priorities for the day, and it’s committed to memory and guides myactions for the day.

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7 Responses to Improving Your Capacity for Attention, Resilience, Intentionality & Imagination in Four Minutes Each Hour

  1. Meg says:

    Ah, see, for me? This would totally throw me off track. Right now I have to go forward while forgetting how my body feels (It’s sick, I can’t do anything about it at present, and I have to keep going), without overfocusing on my environment (I’m exceptionally easily distracted by things, and especially people, so I have to tune out to get stuff done), and not setting too many goals for my day (I’m prone to expecting too much from myself, and getting frustrated when I can’t deliver according to my absurd goals.) I’m learning to do the exact opposite of your steps for my sanity. Interesting how life works.:)But I love reading your stuff, reading how you work through things.

  2. Nui says:

    This is a really good one. Thanks. I think in this age of digital technology and compressed/overextended time, we’re losing focus so easily. It’s become a total necessity to find ways to counter that loss of self with simple self-awareness exercises such as what you’ve described.

  3. lugon says:’s a forum at – some people are discussing had some ideas on how to make things work in this area. I’d be greatful if you could post even a small note at some point in time. Of course, hopefully all this “pandemic flu awareness week” is muchado about nothing. :-/

  4. NVMojo says:

    great stuff here! Just the water part caught my attention as I never seem to remember to drink enough of the stuff. Then the rest became clear to me …Thanks! Great blog, btw!

  5. zach says:

    I highly agree with Meg, this is a recipy for deepening neurosis I think. You seriously need to relax, look deeper. I thought you claimed to be “perceiver” (in mbti speak), and yet you have an “hourly routine??” I really think individual people are not very strong, or not as strong as we think, hence the reason we need each other.

  6. joan says:

    zach, dude, chill! dave IS trying to relax by paying attention to what his body is telling him. if he has to establish an hourly routine to remind himself to do this at first, then i commend him for knowing enough about himself to know he needs this.dave, i think the physical activity part of this is especially important to get ourselves out of our heads, where modern humans tend to live out most of their waking moments. thanks for this, i will be implementing a version of it!

  7. Paris Hilton says:

    Iam not unterstand…

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