The holiday season is now over and it is back to work. I know that many of our students are facing exams while others are about to start their Masters’ courses. I wish them all well in their studies.
Over the holiday period, I picked up and read a book called ‘Focus’ by Daniel Goleman. Some of you may remember that he is the person who coined the phrase ‘Emotional intelligence’ and his work led to an upsurge in research in this area. Emotional intelligence is now valued as an important attribute for all team workers, managers and leaders. It is often introduced and explored as part of management and leadership development programmes.
Goleman’s latest book explores the concept of ‘focus’ and its importance in our complex and connected world. In particular, he considers the impact of the Internet and social media on individuals’ concentration and communication skills. He cites worrying statistics of the amount of time people now spend online. This is clearly evidenced by visits to restaurants or bars where it is not unusual to see a group of people interacting with their smart phones rather than each other. Goleman suggests that the art of focus is being lost.
What is focus?
Goleman suggests that focus involves three parts: inner, other and outer focus. Inner awareness or self awareness means knowing ourself, our values, our emotions, our intuition, and – very importantly – what we enjoy. ‘Other’ relates to our awareness of other people – being able to read them, being empathetic and building rapport. Finally, outer focus means understanding the context in which we live and work, our connections with the systems of our lives, and how these interact. Managing the balance between our inner awareness, other and outer focus enables us to act in a meaningful and focused way in our complex world.
Focus also means dealing with distractions including sensory distractions (I am currently writing this blog on a train and every so often become aware of a small child’s stream of ‘why’ questions to his parents) and emotional distractions, e.g. a serious disagreement with a partner. Individuals who are unable to manage their distractions, including their mobile phone and e-mails, are unable to focus for any length of time and so are likely to under perform e.g. in exams, in meetings or other events. I was brought up in a large family and I have four siblings; as a child I learnt the valuable habit of switching off from my surroundings when reading or doing homework. More recently, I have had to develop new habits of turning off my mobile phone and e-mail when I need to focus on the job in hand. This simple, but sometimes challenging action, increases my ability to focus and, interestingly, means that I get through work more quickly giving me more time for other activities.
Goleman’s book explores related topics such as: mindfulness; meditation; focused preparation; recovery from set backs; positive emotions; and creativity. In addition, he looks at focus in the context of leadership and suggests that it is an essential per-requisite for inspirational leadership.
So, as part of my New Years resolution, I am going to be mindful of my focus. I am also going to follow Goleman’s advice that as well as focused attention we need to provide space for mind-wandering ……..