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Are You Paying Attention to Your Attention?

by Jane Hundley, MA I/O 2 months ago in healing
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Interesting part 2 read about Knowing how your attention gets hijacked can change the way you operate.

Choose Your Day

We need to keep our minds open to new information and keep our attention focused on what is important so we can make choices that will move us towards our goals in life. I don’t intend to blame social media for distracting us and creating new addictions. Just as we avoid toxic chemicals in our lives, we have to learn how to block out forces that will eat away at our time. We must be able to live in the present moment and take the day as it unfolds, directing and moving towards progress. We must literally choose our day and choose what we're going to pay attention to. We need to consciously move away from activities that falsely make the brain feel like something is good, when in fact it's a waste of our energy, a waste of our time, and a waste of our precious attention.

Having your attention dragged off in directions you hadn’t intended can make you feel less grounded, with a strange sense of not really being there; not being fully present. That’s because you have lost “executive control” of your attention and are simply being swept along with the current or being blown like a leaf in the wind. The currents and winds don’t lead you anywhere useful. They don’t have a purpose other than to catch you up and sweep you along.

"We must literally choose our day and choose what we're going to pay attention to."

Think of your attention as a bank in which you have your working capital. Your attention bank is finite and limited. You only have so much working capital attention to use until you replenish it. There are things we absolutely have to do that demand our attention—the basic “costs” of running our business. If your attention is working capital you need to run your business, do you waste it on distractions that are nice to know, but take away from your more urgent priorities? Do you conserve your capital to spend on the things that really matter? This can feel like being very busy but getting very little done. How demotivating is that? A lot, and outcomes and returns are diminished for your efforts.

There are many things that distract our attention. Some are external, some are internal distractions such as internal dialogue and negative self-talk. The role of your inner critic is a huge part of the cycle of attention-derailing situations in your day. These internal distractions are even more difficult to control.

That topic will be covered specifically in another piece because it is a frequent and far-reaching influence over leaders, and too much to add into this article. External distractions are easier to manage once we identify them and take action to stop them capturing our attention.

"It is believed we have the attention span of a gold fish-9 seconds or less!"

So, let’s follow some of the advice of the inventors of the social media virtual life.

Inventors of social media advise you to just turn off all the “notifications” on your devices! Specifically, do not click to follow a suggested link, and if you want to access it, do it by searching directly for it. Try not to leave trails of information about what you want to watch. Don’t allow your machines to ping up the latest news headline or tell you that someone you know has just posted something on social media or tweeted something that you really don’t need to read. It is believed we have the attention span of a gold fish — 9 seconds or less! During that short window, we are highly susceptible to click bait grabbing our attention in the moment and taking us off track. Don’t allow any alerts. Don’t pay attention to all that click-bait. Turn it all off! Boom!

This doesn't mean getting rid of all your social media. You just must NOT allow social media to control or direct your attention. You must intentionally direct your attention to combat the urge and temptation to slip down the internet black hole. When gathering as a family or friends, hide your phone away, put it in a basket and don’t allow guests to distract themselves with their devices. Go on vacations off grid. Some people take whole weeks of sitting in mental silence, without talking or writing or using any devices.

Tactics to Gain Better Use of Attention

Want to get to know your own mind? Reduce your engagement with information overload and preserve your precious attention.

Remember: the frontal lobe of your brain is what gives you executive control over your cognition and allows you to be the master of how you use your attention. It has limited bandwidth. Once that bandwidth has been used up, you don’t have any more. It’s gone. Are you going to waste it on nonsense?

Learning about your own attention bandwidth can change your life. A director of finance in a sports company worked in coaching to uncover his unconscious draw to unproductive, attention-depleting activities. Once we got to the core of the hook, he was able to remain prepared for those moments and stay present enough to make a better choice with his time and attention.

Make sure you use the bandwidth you have available to you for what you need it for. Otherwise, it will get chewed up on everything else that is trying to get your attention.

You have a choice about what to devote your precious attention to. Make the choice, consciously. Choose your day.

  1. Become an observer of your attention. To build your focus you need to assess your attention. When does your attention shift, and how long does it take you to focus again when you are shifting tasks?
  2. Learn the behaviors that help you focus. Not everyone is the same. Most people cannot do well while a television is playing in the background (but you’d be surprised how often people do that). Almost always, the attention of a person who has this habit is scattered and their concentration is easily interrupted.
  3. Discipline yourself to not give into unproductive time wasters and laziness that chews up precious time. Let’s just say that being bored sometimes is shown in research to be good for your brain, but laziness will just waste talent and build up anxiety or depression.
  4. Build a habit or ritual in the morning that affirms your focus.
  5. Practice mindfulness. Live in Here and Now.
  6. Use visualization to attack a task. When you visualize a task as completed and realize how great it feels to have it done, you will move toward that reward unconsciously and make it happen. Your brain wants to obey your orders, and when you visualize, you put an order into action in your subconscious mind.
  7. Note your peak hours of performance. You’re probably either a morning or an afternoon person or a night owl. If you make sure you are getting 8 full hours of sleep, you can operate at your best rhythms by following your natural energy at your best focusing time.
  8. Train your brain as if it were a muscle. The best exercise for your brain? Meditation, getting present in the Here and Now and soaking in it for as long as you can. Start with 3 minutes, then get up to 20 minutes or more per day.
  9. Get rid of distractors such as ads, notifications, endless background noise. Remove visual attention grabbers from your peripheral sight. Turn off all notifications from social media platforms that intend to lure you away from your focus.
  10. Use the 20-minute rule. Set a timer to remain focused for only 20 minutes at a time. Then, get up and stretch out your body to get grounded and present again.
  11. Select the time of day you will check your email. Depending on your rhythm of work, check it during exact times and not let something non-urgent shift your attention. Attend to just emails, then move on. You can screen for urgent messages.
  12. Do single-tasking, not multi-tasking. Every switch comes at a cost. Every time you shift your attention from one task to another, you require your brain to ‘refocus’. Refocusing takes time and energy from the brain’s bandwidth reserve.

Conclusion

Knowing how your attention gets hijacked will change the way you operate. You will produce better work in less time, with less stress. This can help you not only know yourself, but also to detect burnout signs in the team of people you are managing. Your communication will improve, and you’ll have more productive conversations. You will learn that key reminders are helpful aids to keep you focused. You will be more present and more aware of not only you, but others. You will be more engaged with more energy to apply to the problem, situation and people at hand. You will gain more present-moment awareness and be able to use your attention to address the priorities of the day. Along the way, you will gain a more balanced interdependence between your work and personal life.

Learning how your attention operates and gaining the discipline needed to remove your distractions are critical steps to managing your attention and becoming more ‘mindful’.

Managing your use of attention and preserving your bandwidth might be your most valuable mental resource as a leader. It is worth investing in preserving your mental bandwidth ‘bank’: you want to be putting more into it to keep it healthy and be mindful of all the ways you are depleting this resource.

Managing your use of attention could be the missing piece in your mission to being your best self and be a more effective leader

healing

About the author

Jane Hundley, MA I/O

LEADERSHIP PSYCHOLOGIST & EXECUTIVE COACH.

Jane is the author of The Power of Executive Personal Presence® and the founder of www.ImpactManagementUSA.com.

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