Is Attention Today’s Scarcest Resource?
The essential theme of Daniel Goleman’s new book “FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence” is that “paying attention” is a lost art form that needs resurrecting. In today’s noisy fast-moving world, it’s easy to become distracted, isolated and overwhelmed. Yet focus is integral to our happiness, productivity and relationships (both personal and professional). Plus paying attention is essential for getting stuff done (or simply for enjoying life).
Think Of Attention or Focus Like a Muscle
Use it poorly and it can wane. But if you exercise it effectively, it grows and develops and is essential to High Performance Living!
The Three Areas Of Focus
1) Inner (self‐management)
2) Other (empathy for others)
3) Outer (awareness of broad patterns and complex systems)
Self Regulation “Smart Practices”
It’s not the chatter around us that is the most potent distraction, but rather the chatter of our own minds (our own inner talk) which can take us offtrack. Self-awareness is the basis of self-regulation or self-management! Hence, those who adopt Smart “Inner” Practices—mindfulness, meditation, focused preparation, recovery, positive emotions, better habits – will sustain greatness while others do not.
What Are We Actually Doing When We Are Being Mindful?
We are essentially retraining our habits of attention. We all need to be careful where our attention is because we all keep getting pulled away from what we should most be doing (eg what matters most). By learning to retrain our attention, we resculpt (rewire) our brain. We do this simply by noticing our mind has wandered and bringing it back to our original focus of attention. We strengthen this circuitry everytime we repeat this process (neuroplasticity).
The Three Areas Of “Other” Focus:
1) Cognitive empathy (I understand how you see things)
2) Emotional empathy (I feel with you)
3) Empathic concern (I want to help)
“The antidote to a lack of empathy is getting to know people who are different to you!” Daniel Goleman
Developing “Triple Focus” Skills
Goleman puts forward that a well‐lived life demands that we develop “triple focus” skills by paying attention to our “inner, outer and other” focus. Knowing how to focus on our inner thoughts and feelings, to be present and empathic with other people and to pay attention to larger systems and societal trends are essential components of success today.
Use “Smart Practice” To Increase Your Focus
It is not the sheer number of hours you put in—the 10,000 hour Gladwell rule — but the way you pay attention to your performance, rapidly absorbing specific feedback to correct errors and to add learning. 10,000 hour in itself is a myth. What’s missing is course correction or mindfulness (paying attention). The observer principle also applies in this instance too where a Coach can help you see beyond your blind spots.
The Caveat: Too Much Focus Can Also Be Bad!
Intentional full focus is key when we’re learning new things but consider the golfer who overthinks his swing. Similarly there are certain areas of our life we would do well to put on autopilot (everyday habitual activities) to free up mind space for creative thinking. Plus there are times in life when we feel overloaded and overwhelmed where we would be better off subtracting than adding to our workload.
A Wandering Mind Is Not Always A Bad Thing!
Where would creative breakthroughs and unexpected insights come from if it were not for future projections, self‐reflection, innovative brainstorming and reframing memories? People’s minds who wander are often more able to make original connections which have not been made before!
The Antidote To Attention Fatigue?
It’s the same as for the physical kind: take a rest! Find a completely different but immersive activity to engage in such as exercising, connecting with a trusted friend or a relaxing movie to watch. You will be able to focus much better on your return!
Adapted from Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman