We are bombarded with things to which we could direct our attention. The phone rings or a text arrives, and we divert our attention from our work or friends. We are reading something on the web and without realizing it, start shopping because an ad catches our attention. We are talking to someone we love and then one of the kids does something and we lose focus. It happens in an instant. It may be insignificant or a loss of productivity or just plain disrespectful!
Many people laughingly say they have ADD; some are even proud of it. It seems to be part of our culture. I believe attention management is as important as time management. It starts with a choice to learn new habits and then takes practice.
Turn off your email or cell phone notifications. Put your phone away or silence it while talking to someone. Do your most important work in a place with less distractions. Be conscious of your thoughts and watch how they shift. Bring your thoughts back to your intended focus.
Attention is focus. Attention is sticking with the conversation until it runs its course. Attention is getting the job done. Attention involves all of our senses. You have to want it. Make it a choice to practice. Be available attentively; it improves relationships. Intentionally single-task; it improves productivity. Let Purpose, Values and intentional priorities guide your choices. Where is your attention going right now?
Our conversations with others, particularly in mentoring, may be characterized by “backbone and heart”. We share various sides of our own humanity…strengths, vulnerability and caring.
Backbone is being strong. It is strength of character and modeling that character even in (especially in) difficult situations. It is saying things that need to be said to push others to be their best (because you care about them). It is the setting of boundaries. It is courage under pressure. It is “being there” even if you don’t want to be. It is doing the “right” things.
Heart is doing things with care and love (is there really any other way?). It is kind words. It is a sharing of feeling and emotion rather than just doing something. It can be happy or sad but it is definitely supportive.
Backbone and heart belong together and are a balancing of attitudes. Tough love is an example. Vulnerability is that magic ingredient that pulls them together and is an important part of the relationship. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Vulnerability enlarges/deepens a relationship by creating a special connectedness. It takes courage.
Take a look at your conversations and relationships. Is “backbone and heart” part of them?
We make hundreds of decisions per day. Most are routine and simple such as what clothes do I wear or what to eat for dinner. A few are more critical such as what car do I buy or what school should my child attend. These critical decisions require deliberation and a process, particularly if other people are participating in the decision making.
Here is a decision-making process:
- Clarify the decision to be made by describing/writing the problem or issue.
- List the alternatives; option development is as important as option analysis.
- List the decision criteria or principles.
- Evaluate each decision against the criteria. Set up a simple matrix on paper.
- Implement and monitor the decision. Did the outcome achieve expectations?
I want to focus on the 3rd bullet point, i.e. listing the criteria or principles. Using a car purchase as an example, the criteria might be: initial purchase cost, maintenance costs, gas mileage and safety features. You would simply list your alternatives and then assess each alternative against these criteria. Of course, some criteria might carry more weight and be required vs. optional.
This type of decision-making is particularly helpful in large, diverse groups. Instead of advocating (arguing) for a particular decision, identify and then keep the focus on the key principles that apply. Let the criteria guide the evaluation to build a consensus. Choices have consequences so keep the long-term outcomes in mind when evaluating.
You can read more about decision making at this link.
“Knowing yourself deeply” is a key theme of this blog, mostly in the context of discovering purpose. What do you do with this knowledge in everyday life? The picture above shows a kitten that thinks it’s a lion. This poor self-assessment of reality may work some of the time but likely will cause problems in communications and relationships.
Self-awareness is about knowing your strengths AND weaknesses. It’s about how you present yourself in a simple conversation, e.g. choice and tone of words, amount of words and body language. It’s about being in touch with your emotions (and triggers) and understanding how this affects your decisions and interactions.
Self-awareness points the way to a valuing of differences and is therefore particularly important in mentoring. It is a prerequisite to suspending personal biases and judgement and allows empathy to prevail. For example, I am disciplined, a morning person, goal-oriented, sometimes assertive and in a loving relationship. I know that discipline is not a common trait. I try not to assume that others have it and wonder what strengths they might have instead.
Personal growth requires asking for feedback which validates your assumptions. It lets you check if your strengths offset your weaknesses. This model by Marquita Herald shares some elements of self-awareness:
- Self-concept: how you perceive yourself.
- Self-regulation: taking responsibility for your choices.
- Self-development: developing character and abilities.
- Self-identity: recognition of one’s potential.
- Personal values: reflect needs and wants.
There are levels and types of self-awareness which if interested, you can read about at this link. Try this self-awareness quiz too.
We each have a uniqueness and specialness to our lives. I am convinced that we are born with some (all?) of it and that it is even God-given. Knowing it is part of the purpose journey because there is power and energy from seeing life-long patterns. Specialness includes ways of thinking, talents, nationality and more. The “world” (parents, school, work, society) causes us to lose it because it doesn’t want us to be too “different”. The world doesn’t seem to like people who live outside of a framework…and so we conform (or get bullied). Specialness must be (re)discovered.
When we are very young there are less boundaries on behavior. But then we go to school and immediately we “must be quiet in class” or study specific topics in certain ways. Socialization starts with our parents but becomes more obvious in a big school system or at work. We conform and lose a little bit of ourselves, sometimes reluctantly and sometime unknowingly. As we progress through life we assume other life roles. Our company culture, society’s expectations for men and women and our religion are all working on us. What is the cost to our soul?
I presume that socialization is unstoppable and even necessary. When we are young we are not equipped to challenge these forces. As adults we can rediscover our uniqueness. Do you know and embrace your specialness? Can you think of the earliest time in your life when it first became evident?
Living to our potential includes elements of attitude and aptitude. Put together, they help us soar to new heights in our personal or work lives. It starts with choices: positive thoughts, supportive relationships and new skills and abilities.
Attitude emerges from our thoughts and belief systems. Ideally, it is the positive belief that you can do something and even the thought that you should do something rather than procrastinating. It is also the belief that others are trying their best too. It is the spark of motivation, often hidden from our conscious thought. It can be fueled by a clear personal Vision and related Goals. It can be lost in a moment of despair or crisis.
Aptitude is related to skills and abilities and includes ongoing growth-seeking learning and experiences. There is a desire to get better at something, even master it. You must choose where to focus growth. It may be in managing relationships, leadership or a technical skill. Let your passion guide you.
Both are important, but I have a belief bias that attitude is THE essential ingredient in life and career. Belief in yourself is powerful. Internally, it takes some significant experiences to develop this confidence and belief. Externally, it helps to receive encouragement from others, to have family, friends and managers that believe in you and make an “investment” in you.
Altitude is the outcome and up to you…up, down or flat. What new heights do you seek? Are you in touch with your attitude and aptitude?
Affirmation (noun): the action or process of affirming something or being affirmed; emotional support or encouragement.
Like smiling, giving another person a positive affirmation is a simple yet significant gift. It goes something like this… I see this special talent/strength/value in you. It shows up in what you do and makes you a unique and wonderful person. The way you use this “specialness” is making a difference.
We all need affirmation at some time. People who are hurting regularly need it. All too often, they do not have caring people in their lives who nurture them. Strong positive words offer support and encouragement and they have a lasting effect. It’s a way to show we care and build a relationship.
Be specific; rather than saying “you are amazing”, try “your talent for cooking combined your ability to select food ingredients helps you bring people together in harmony over a special meal”. Emphasize behaviors and skills. An affirmation is an important mentoring skill. It is especially important because it helps another to “know themselves deeply”.
We Zapp when we give “positivity; we Sapp when we take away energy. Choose to say positive things to others 10x more than you criticize. It’s much more effective (and fun) in influencing behavior.
Affirmations can be personal as well (but is not my focus today). It’s the things we say or think to ourselves over and over. The idea is simply to change our beliefs.
Time management is an important skill but I’ve come to believe that attention management is the bigger opportunity (and challenge). We are blasted with attention options and choices all day long. We sometimes try multi-tasking but this is not effective in a human relationship. We need to be available attentively. How do we do this?
- Choose the relationships that are important and invest in them. Make time for the important people of our lives. Call rather than text, schedule a time for coffee, lunch or a beer or just drop by. Simply show up; this is how we demonstrate to them that they are important (rather than just thinking they are).
- Put away or turn off the distractions. Find a quiet place to be together. Turn off the TV or put away the cell phone. Find a babysitter for the kids.
- Suspend your own problems, just for a short while. Focus on the other person and look them in the eye. Choose empathy and love.
- Practice active listening. Focus on hearing the meaning of their words rather than the words themselves. Nod, paraphrase and ask questions to insure they know we heard their words and meaning.
Choose to intentionally single-task. Use your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your mind to think and your heart to feel. With all senses tuned-in we become focused at a new, deeper level. Be mindful of attention shifts and bring yourself back to your intended focus. Being available attentively requires practice.
I love Mathew Kelly’s writing on “everything is a choice”. He says that we need to learn to master the moment of decision and you will live a life uncommon. It’s an important concept to realize that we are where we are in life because of the choices we have made.
Choices have consequences. The choice to smoke cigarettes or eat fatty foods will likely shorten your life. The choice to not study at school will likely lead to lower grades and lifelong income (of course there are exceptions). The choice to have a child will change your lifestyle. The choice to not maintain your car will result in a shorter vehicle life. We make hundreds of decisions every single day, sometimes without thinking.
Daily problems (sometimes crises), regrets and missed opportunities are the consequences. We need to make the important decisions based on our purpose, vision and goals. This framework helps establish the priorities and boundaries of our lives. Courage and discipline are supporting character traits.
We must own our decision choice rather than blame others. We must think about the consequences to self, family, friends, projects and work results. We must think far enough ahead to understand the possible outcomes of a decision and their associated consequences. We should give more emphasis to long-term needs than short-term gratification.
If you want to change your life, start making different choices. It starts with mindfulness of our critical decisions and then “choosing to choose” rather than going with the flow of everyday life.
An important part of conversation and communication in general is the need to ask questions. This is a way to show the other person that you listen and that you care. The asking enables you to go deeper.
There is so much small talk in daily life. It is essential but not sufficient. How long can you talk about the sports scores or the weather? Deeper questions allow us to form deeper relationships and engage in life-long learning.
It is important to ask open-ended questions; those are ones that don’t have simple yes/no answers. Here are some examples of deep, open-ended questions. They are from the book, Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills by Tony Stoltzfus.
- If you could invest the rest of your life and know you could change one thing in the world around you, what would it be? What led you to choose that?
- If you had unlimited resources and couldn’t fail, what would you set out to do?
- What are your most outstanding personality traits?
- Of all the roles you’ve been in, which ones were the best fit? Why?
- If you had a year to live, what would be most important to you to do and be in that time?”
- What makes your heart sing?
Asking questions is a sign of respect. If done well, the other person feels valued and the relationship grows. Try finding some new questions to routinely ask others instead of “what do you do for a living”.