It’s no secret that the ability to pay attention is essential to our success. If our attention skills are strong, we can perform well on required tasks. If they are stunted, we perform poorly. Daniel Goleman is one of my favorite authors. His first two books explore the vital connection between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership: “Emotional Intelligence” and “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence.” His most recent book is “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.”
In the December issue of Mindful Magazine, Daniel discusses three types of focus that we all require to enjoy a connected, fulfilling life: Inner focus, Other focus, and Outer focus. Leaders especially require strength in all three areas to achieve their goals.
Inner Focus centers around our intuitions and guiding values. In meditative practice, the strength of our intuition is guided by what is known as our “third-eye” chakra (or energy center), which rests in the center of our forehead. Our two eyes are REceptive – they take in information that is right in front of us. Our third eye is PERceptive – it takes in information that is beyond what is right in front of us. Combining our receptive and perceptive vision helps us to be attuned to our relationships and surroundings. There are many meditative exercises we can do to strengthen our Inner Focus.
Other Focus strengthens our ability to be connected to other people. It requires a strong sense of empathy and compassion, and a desire to understand the perspectives and situations of those around us. Other Focus shifts our focus from ourselves to other people.
Outer Focus equips us with the ability to navigate the larger world. Those with Outer Focus understand that we can not operate in a bubble, and that we are connected to something much larger than ourselves.
“A leader tuned out of his internal world will be rudderless; one blind to the world of others will be clueless; those indifferent to the larger systems within which they operate will be blindsided.” ~Daniel Goleman
Strengthening Our Focus
Here are three 5-minute exercises from Mindful Magazine that will help you explore the experience of a focused mind.
1: Focus on what’s in front of you. Take a relaxed, seated position. Locate something in your field of vision and start focusing on it. As thoughts carry you away – including thoughts about the object itself – return to placing your bare attention on it. Now let your gaze be looser. Still take in the object but also a little bit more of what’s around it. Then tighten your focus on the object again. Notice the power you have to choose what to center your attention on.
2. Peripheral vision. This is a technique used by emergency workers to counteract tunnel vision. Sit quietly. Pay attention not to what’s in front of you but to the periphery of your vision; the sides, up and down. As your attention naturally comes back to center, gently bring it back to the periphery. Repeat this a few times, for about 5 minutes.
3: Something to contemplate. Focus is not purely a visual phenomenon. It’s tremendously beneficial to bring your focus to the thoughts and emotions that arise in your mind and body. Start by choosing a person you admire and contemplate their good qualities for a few minutes. If your mind strays, return to focusing on their good qualities. Then choose one quality and appreciate it for a little while. Notice whether this focusing results in good feelings in you. You can try this with negative qualities as well to determine how much your focus impacts you emotionally and physically.
Strengthening the Attention Muscle
Attention and focus works very much like a muscle. Use it poorly and it can atrophy; continuously strengthen it and it grows. We live in a world that compromises our ability to be fully engaged and attentive. Whether it’s too many competing priorities, social media platforms, or never-ending technology notifications, we are now required to make a conscientious focused effort on attention.
My hope is that this column – and my work – equips you with strategies that empower you to live your best life and reach your personal and organizational potential. It’s been rewarding for me to see the transformation in my coaching clients as I have incorporated my years of personal meditative and wellness practices into our coaching work. As their mindfulness has increased, the personal and business results have been extraordinary. I welcome the opportunity to create similar transformations for you.