A question of attention

A question of attention

A question of attention

In April I shared an artiphotograph of a person's lower legs and feet in walking shoes in grass with dappled lightcle about spacious questions, how they leave room for reflective thinking, liberate our creativity and honour the experience and emergent understanding of our coachees. Spacious questions invite us to slow down thinking and dwell in the pause, where new perspectives, ideas and even answers can be found. Key to the effectiveness of spacious questions is the presence of the coach and their generative attention. The guest blog from Rob Booth focusses on just that, the power and importance of generative attention. It complements what I’ll consider here


the restorative impact a natural environment can have on attention

how questions which invite our clients to pay attention to what they notice (not only in their head but in their heart and their body) can deepen their knowledge of themselves and help them move further towards the outcomes they’re looking for.



Stepping out

What do you notice as you step outside from the inside?

You might feel your shoulders relax a little; you might start to breath more deeply; you might let out a sigh and feel a pull towards the earth, a greater sense of grounding. Being outdoors, in a range of different kinds of environment and especially nature, can cause a shift in our physiology as well as in how we think and how we pay attention.

Attention restoration

Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) propose that that there are four cognitive states, or states of attention ultimately leading to ‘attention restoration’:

  • Clearer head, or concentration
  • Mental fatigue recovery
  • Soft fascination, or interest
  • Reflection and restoration

They developed a model called ‘Attention Restoration Therapy’ in recognition that directed attention (that is, when we’re concentrating at work, for example) can lead to fatigue as blocking out distractioPhotograph of a young woman with glasses chewing a pencil and looking stressed while working at a laptopns can deplete our energy and higher cognitive functioning. They argue that being outdoors, particularly when we are in contact with wilderness and a natural environment, restores our attention and capacity as we are engaged in ‘soft fascination’, (low-stimulation activity such as noticing the way the trees move in the wind, a duck entering the water, the colours etc.). This reduces the internal noise and provides a quiet internal space to relax. When we spend time in this kind of space we are able to ‘reflect on life, priorities, actions, and goals’ (Han, 2003).


Attention questions

Coaching conversations outdoors in themselves have the capacity to boost energy and reflective capacity. So couple that with some powerful questions designed to invite others to really pay attention to what is going on within and those conversations become even more valuable. Questions such as:

  • Take a moment to pause. Listen inwardly. What do you notice?
  • What truth emerges from where you are right now?
  • How are your emotions reflected in what you see and hear around you?
  • What do you notice about the patterns?

You can find these questions and others about Attention, ConnectiPhotograph of 7 coaching cards and the box showing images of natureand questionson, Growth, Movement and Space in The Outdoor Coach coaching cards. Each question is accompanied by a stunning photograph from the Peak District, UK, beautifully captured by Roscoe Rutter. This subtle combination helps us spark conversation and connection, restore attention, reflect deeply, boost creativity and inspiration and encourage new thinking, perspectives and solutions. In my experience, just a few questions, offered with a large dose of generative attention, are enough to make a profound difference to how people perceive themselves, their situation and where they want to go. 

This is the second article in a series of articles about coaching questions. Look out for part 3 in the next issue of Consciously Connected.


Han, K.-T. (2003). A reliable and valid self-rating measure of the restorative quality of natural environments. Landscape and Urban Planning, 64, 209-232. doi:10.1016/S0169-2046(02)00241-4

Kaplan R and Kaplan S (1989) The Experience of Nature: A psychological Perspective, Cambridge University Press