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On “Focus”

I recently read Daniel Goleman’s latest book, “Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence”.  It is an outstanding set of work detailing the distractions our technology-filled world has created, the issues caused in both youth success and adult leadership. It also provides profound evidence on the importance of focus in our success and how we can improve or recapture it.  I recommend this book highly.  Knowing that many of you may not get a chance to read it in its entirety, below is a very brief highlight of areas I found particularly interesting.

An Overview:  

Three key areas of focus (or attention) are inner, other and outer focus. Success, happiness and productivity requires we be adept in each one.

Inner focus is about self-awareness, guiding values, decisions. Other focus helps us understand the people and relationships in our lives. Outer focus lets us navigate the larger system and world that surrounds and impacts us.

The power to disengage our attention from one thing to another (self-control) is essential for well-being.

Being immersed in digital distractions creates cognitive overload and that overload wears out our self-control.

Deep thinking (the type that creates innovative ideas, excellent strategy, etc.) demands sustaining a focused mind. A distracted mind creates shallow reflections and trivial thinking.

Our brain is wired to react to neural hijacks such as angry people, perceived threats or stimuli from advertisements. It is an involuntary choice where emotions take over our focus.  This happens most often when our minds wander for too long,  we are distracted and/or overwhelmed by information. We then lose self-control.

Mind wandering generally causes negative feelings and thoughts because we tend to go to a me-focused chatter around worries and rumination. Again, lost self-control.

We can train our ‘mental muscle’ to stay focused, shift attention only to the most important information, stay positive and use emotions effectively. This creates strong self-awareness and self-control.

How Do We Improve?

Some key ways to enhance our focus is through meditation(neuroscience has proven it can literally exercise our mind to be more controlled and focused), memorization (keeping the cognitive mind active), coaching (practicing new behaviors with a partner to hold us accountable), and assessments (360 instruments, interviews, etc) to increase our self-awareness and understand our blind spots.

Why Does it Matter?

Self-control (in preschoolers and in adolescence) is the number one predictor of life success.  It is greater than IQ, socio-economic status or quality of education.

People are motivated and engaged when they are working within their strengths and coming from a place of positivity. Inspired, motivated and engaged employees drive results.

Leaders guide the attention of the organization. What a leader focuses on, the team or organization focuses on.

In an effort to summarize and hopefully pique your interest, this complex subject has been simplified. Focus and attention are key to life and leadership success driven largely by self-awareness and self-control.  However, both tend to be lacking in our youth and in our organizations.  This lack ultimately sacrifices positive results in life and work.

What can you do to improve your focus? Your families attention? How about your team and your organization?

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” 

– Mark Twain