The internet was out again. No worries, I just have to head upstairs, unplug and replug the router. I get upstairs, but realize I’m a bit peckish so I turn into the kitchen. A handful of nuts and a cup of tea later, I’m halfway back down the stairs before I realize I can’t remember why I came upstairs in the first place.
Sound familiar? I used to think it was old age, and my brain was slowing down. Perhaps it is because my brain is too full and there isn’t enough room for trivial things. But the truth is simply this: when I realized I needed to go upstairs, I just pushed my chair back and went upstairs, and my energy of thought switched from the internet to simply going up the stairs.
Which makes me laugh because just 2 weeks ago, I did a workshop with about 10 people and I had their names memorized within the first 10 minutes. Why can I remember all those names but not why I went upstairs?
Simple. When I listened to each person introduce themselves, I focused on each of them. I made a conscious choice to listen and I expended energy doing it. I focused energy by listening, wrote each name down in my book and eventually said their name out loud. So all in all, I listened, transcribed and spoke. I had to commit all that energy to learn their names.
When I went upstairs, I stopped thinking about why and my mind wandered to other things. There are a dozen e mails to answer, gotta vacuum the stairs, I should brush those dogs, I wonder how Eleanor’s Mom is doing….my brain was juggling all sorts of ideas and images, and the priority item of fixing the internet didn’t receive enough energy or focus, so I forgot about it.
Continual Partial Attention (CPA), a phrase coined by Linda Stone (http://lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention) describes how many of us think today. We want to connect with everything and not miss anything. We are constantly shifting thoughts and ideas around in our heads like shells in a shell game. On top of that, we are using our computers and cell phones, constantly checking e mails and text messages, and we are on hyper-alert to possibilities. We are living in an age of interruption. As a result, nothing gets our complete attention – we pay partial attention to a million things.
Yet I know, when I pay complete attention and give something the energy it requires, I learn more, experience more, and ultimately appreciate it more. When I turn my attention to those individuals in my workshop, I learned not just their names, but their values and priorities, something that will help me to work better with them. When I focus my energy on the task at hand, be it a briefing note, learning names in a workshop, planning a training session, or even learning a new fiddle tune, I am startlingly more successful when I commit sufficient energy and give my complete attention.
It’s not just our work that will benefit from giving something complete attention by committing enough energy to it. Next time you’re talking or listening to a colleague or a loved one, focus your energy on them, and not on the thousand other details zinging around in your head. Really concentrate and commit your energy to the conversation. You will both appreciate the effort and be happier for it.
My lesson from this? I can memorize anything, if put my energy into doing it. I can write a great briefing note/strategy/workshop outline, etc. if I put my energy into doing just that. I can develop and keep wonderful relationships, too, if I use energy to focus on them.
Now, if I could just remember why I came upstairs again!!!