Being a fully engaged leader takes focus on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our lives. As you saw in my last posts, I do well with the physical aspects. However, I’d give myself a B on the mental aspect; I can be easily distracted at times, especially when procrastinating on a project. When this happens, I have to consciously slow myself down to focus on the task at hand.
Mental energy is the energy of laser focus. It’s hallmark quality in humans is the capacity to be fully present. Not just physically present, but cognitively present as well. The Corporate Athlete® course by the Human Performance Institute teaches that full engagement requires complete presence, investing our full and best energy, right here, right now. The good news is that this ability can be acquired.
I’ve invited expert Tom Ward, founder and principal of NextLevel, to help me explain the importance of mental energy and how to improve it.
Does Multitasking Work?
Have you ever tried carrying on a meaningful conversation with your significant other, child, or best friend while watching TV? Were either of you distracted by the TV? Did either of you become annoyed by the other’s distraction by the TV? In this situation, what are you saying to the other person when you become distracted by the TV? That the TV program is more important than the conversation and/or the person you are conversing with?
One cardinal rule regarding multitasking is: don’t multitask when people, safety, or important matters are at hand. Relationships and outcomes both improve when we focus our attention on one thing at a time. Yet, as we all know, multitasking isn’t always detrimental. For example, folding laundry while watching TV seems just fine. The key is to train ourselves to know when it’s not okay.
How to Become More Focused
What are some effective techniques for cultivating greater presence and focus?
High on the list are meditation, journaling, visualization, and yoga. If you’ve never tried meditating, you might be surprised by it’s coincident ease and difficulty.
Using Meditation to Become More Focused
Let’s start with meditation. Here is what Tom Ward has to say about using meditation to become more focused:
Try the following. In a quiet room, sit comfortably in a straight-backed chair. Close by, set a kitchen or smartphone timer for three minutes. With your feet on the floor and hands in your lap, start the timer and gently close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath. Observe your breath as you inhale and exhale. Don’t attempt to manage your breathing; simply observe it. When your attention wanders from concentrating on your breathing (and it will), simply acknowledge that it has wandered and gently return your attention to it once again. When the timer goes off, open your eyes and answer these questions:
- What did it feel like to meditate?
- Was it easy or difficult?
- How many times did your attention wander from your breath?
- Was it easy to return your attention to your breath?
I’ve been meditating off and on for many years, and sometimes I find that my concentration just wanders more than normal. And, it’s not always easy for me to return my attention to the ebb and flow of my normal breathing. Darned monkey mind!
As challenging as meditation can be at times, I find it particularly helpful in calming my mind and body. I’m more focused, sleep better and feel more alert when I wake. Another bonus I’ve discovered is that my workouts tend to be better when I’ve meditated earlier in the day.
Using Journaling to Become More Focused
Journaling can also help you stay focused because it helps you release the chatter from your brain. While journaling can mean writing for 20 minutes at a time on a regular basis, that may be too much for busy leaders who are learning this skill. Here are some ideas to clear your mind if journaling is new for you:
- When you feel your mind getting full, grab paper and pen or pencil and just write down everything on your mind (research indicates writing with a pen/pencil tends to make the thoughts written more “real” by engaging multiple areas of the brain simultaneously). This brain dump then helps clear your mind so you can focus on the task at hand. Once the task is complete, then go back and sort the brain dump into your priority lists for the next week.
- If words are not your preferred choice of expression, doodle or draw pictures on paper or a tablet instead. This is known as a visual brain dump. If you find yourself enjoying this, then get some markers, sharpies and other colorful tools to help you clear your brain regularly.
- If you’re a hands-on person, Tubers and Zots and Legos are fun ways to clear your head while physically engaging your hands. It is also a great way to engage others in the office kitchen or community room. People love to pick these things up and mindlessly play with them as a way to give their brain a break!
- Are you a musical person? Then use musical apps or tools to clear your mind.
Go ahead and try any and all of these tools at your own pace. The goal is not to become overwhelmed with focus exercises; that will only lead to more distraction, and an even longer to-do list. Instead, find the best tool for clearing your mind, and practice it regularly to build your skills at staying present and focused.
Remember, the key to being fully engaged mentally is learning to manage your mental energy. Doing one thing at a time is a great start. Cultivating a skill to calm the mind on a regular basis will help you engage your full leadership.
Next week, we will discuss managing spiritual energy, which is fed by our physical, emotional and mental energy sources. Your spiritual energy will give you the force you need to live and lead the life you want.
In the meantime, have you had success with meditation, journaling or yoga? Is there an activity you can point to that has made a drastic improvement in your ability to remain focused? Let’s hear about it. Please leave a comment below, tweet me, or send me an email
Image from Tony Bustos, The Arizona Republic