Whats the most important human capability for the next thirty years?
The Ability to Pay Attention
To hold your attention on what you decide is important. to stay focused as it becomes boring… and to stick with something through boredom to the insights that only emerge on the other side of boredom.
Today I am waiting to receive my first dose of the Covid vaccine. The Barcelona conference center has been turned into an industrial scale vaccine delivery system. It’s well organized and I am impressed.
Line for vaccines. A thousand people. Nine hundred face down to their screens. Fifty reading a book. Fifty looking around and seeing where they are, what’s happening and who else is here.
50 years ago information was scarce. That made it give power to those that had access.
Today information is so abundant that it gives little power. It is so abundant that it has created another scarcity: The scarcity of attention.
What is the true cost of an hour scrolling on Instagram or Facebook? The life I could have lived, the deep conversation I could have had, the goals you didn’t pursue, all the actions you didn’t take… all the possible yous you could have been… had you attended to those things.
“Attention is paid in possible futures forgone” James Williams.
I first met Dandapani at an Entrepreneurs Organisation event in Istanbul in 2012, I have since met him in Boston and then helped bring him to Barcelona to spend a day with our Entrepreneurs’ Organisation chapter.
Dandapani teaches some simple but highly important lessons about awareness and our mind, and how to be intentional about your life… and in particular your energy.
Winning and social approval is not the motivation of the gold medal athlete. They do it to learn more about themselves. Winning or losing is not so important, it is about knowing who you are. Failure is like an enhanced moment to learn who you truly are.
Your life now is a manifestation of where you direct your energy or a sum total of where you have been investing your energy.
There’s people in your life that boost your energy. There are those who are energy neutral. Be kind and detached from your energy vampires. Give the work back to them.
How to Improve your Concentration
Dandapani tells us that there are 3 steps to practice that improve our concentration:
Finish that which you begin
Finish it well, beyond your expectations
Do a little more than you think that you are able to do
Use these 3 steps in every area of your life: from making the bed in the morning, to tidying the kitchen, to reading to your child, to writing emails, to writing blog posts…
Further Resources on Dandapani’s lessons
Check out my previous videos and blog posts that were inspired by Dandapani:
More, more, more… more projects, more goals, more connections… is the path to overwhelm.
Less, less, less… less projects, less goals, less connections… is the path to focus and renewal and energy.
I heard Mathew McConnachy in an interview yesterday. He said that back 10 years ago he was a movie actor, he had a production company, he had a music label and was promoting two artists… and he realized he was spread very thin… he was getting a C in everything. He shared a moment where he received a phone call from his team in the production company… and when he saw the caller id… he went “ugh” and he didn’t want to answer.
He immediately called his lawyer and said “I need to close these businesses down”.
I loved his metaphor that you can’t get As on everything in life. If you have no strategy for focus, for subtraction, you will spread yourself so thin that you guarantee that your best grade is a C+…. and there may be areas in your life where that is painful to you.
Learning to Subtract
There is so much out there on how to focus, how to have discipline, how to make progress…
There is a lot less help on how to Subtract:
Letting go of things.
Subtraction and the Mid Life Crisis
Here’s a recent video of mine where I speak to this challenge – and how the need to subtract becomes most acute in “mid life” from 35 to 55 years old. Before 35 you tend not to have enough skill, reputation, competence… you need to be open to almost all the opportunities that come your way. At 35 if you have developed competence and a positive reputation, you will start to be overwhelmed by opportunities. If you don’t learn a new skill – Subtraction – you will grow to become a bitter and frustrated old person.
In the most recent edition of James Clear’s weekly newsletter, he shared this gem on improving your quality of life.
Be “Selectively Ignorant”
Ignore topics that drain your attention.
Unfollow people that drain your energy.
Abandon projects that drain your time.
Do not keep up with it all. The more selectively ignorant you become, the more broadly knowledgable you can be.
What or who do you need to start ignoring?
We cannot control how the news will make us feel, but we can decide whether to watch it or not. We cannot control how someones words will make us feel, but we can decide to spend time with people who want the best for us. Choose who and what you let into your mind.
I was in Boston to teach on the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation EMP (Entrepreneurial Masters Program) this week. MIT Endicott House is one of the most beautiful locations for leadership retreats and programs. I brought my drone to capture the scenery around the main buildings. You’ll see the drone shots right at the beginning of the video below.
Why Do We Need to Clarify our Purpose?
Dandapani was one of the speakers at the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Masters Program event this week at MIT Endicott House, outside of Boston. Dandapani spent 10 years as a Hindu monk, meditating with his guru on the purpose of his life.
Dandapani spoke about the importance of consciously deciding what is important and what is not important in your life. Why?
First understand the do-or-die importance of focus.
“If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.” Derek Sivers
That is worth repeating.
“A shallow and unrewarding life.”
You Need to Learn to Focus
So make it a priority.
Yes it’s hard. The world is designed to distract you. Facebook is a research laboratory focussed on human distraction. They invest billions and are excellent at their work. When facebook slip up, hard on their tails come Apple, apps, youtube, caffeine, bored friends, problematic neighbours and general office bullshit.
Apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.
Assume you are dealing with crack cocaine. If you can see it, you will use it. If you can hear it, you will use it. Willpower is not going to get you through this.
There are many reasons why we delay work. I think the most insidious is that I have a belief that the person I will be in future will be better than the person who I am today. I have a consistent inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future. The work that is hard today will somehow become easier for the better future me. But, what if’s not? I will only be better in future if I do the hard work of pushing through distractions today.
Who is Good at Focus?
I have spent a lot of time interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety. These successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!
Josef Ajram, one of Spain’s top endurance athletes, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.” In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes.
How to Learn Focus?
Use The Pomodoro* Method.
Here are my simplified instructions for following the Pomodoro method.
Pick a specific project you would like to work on. For example “Write a blog post on focus”.
Set a timer for 20 minutes
Work only on this project until the timer stops. Stop completely no matter where you are when you hear the timer. Mid sentence is excellent (it makes it easier to re-start this work later).
Count how many timers you can complete in a day. I bet you will not complete one single complete timer the first day you begin this habit. I didn’t.
*Any interruption*, you must reset the timer to 20 minutes.
If you need a drink of water, go get the water, then reset the timer.
If you need the bathroom, go, then reset the timer.
If you must check wikipedia to find out a fact, check wikipedia, then reset the timer. (better… resist the need to check facts now, and use a future timer to work on the project “research focus and collect sources”)
If you must respond to a phone alert, respond, reset the timer.
I think you get the idea. Only by working on 1, and only 1 project for the full 20 minutes = you get to count it as 1 timer.
* You can find the original Pomodoro Method described here: Pomodoro Method.
I met Dandapani at EO Instanbul University and have since met him in Barcelona when he came to run a 1 day retreat for our chapter of the EO organisation.
He spent 10 years as a Hindu monk, and now shares what he learnt about using our mind and our awareness in an intentional manner. We need to learn to use our mind well. We need to learn to concentrate.
We become good at what we practice and most of us are experts at practicing distraction. We live in a society that trains us to multi-task and jump from one thing to another in an uncontrolled way. The great panacea for a world plagued by distraction is learning and practicing the art of concentration. In this talk Dandapani shares tools to learn to create focus in our lives.
PS My favourite joke in the speech 5:56 “She asked me ‘Is it ok for monks to use email?’ I turned to her and said ‘yes, but as long as there are no attachments'” 😉
The photo is the view just before my last class of 2012. As we reach the end of another year, I am reminded of a quote “The days go slow, the years go fast.” This year has flown by. I feel like summer has only just passed, and here we are approaching the end of the year.
I wish you health and grand adventures for 2013. January sets the tone for the year. What’s your 20-Mile march for 2013?
100,000 Video Views
Thanks to your help my Educational YouTube channel The Rhetorical Journey achieved over 100,000 views this year. YouTube has overtaken my blog as the most consumed information that I have on the web.
I didn’t complete my one BIG project for 2012 – write a book. However, I did manage to create a lot of content in my procrastination. Plenty of video on the YouTube channel, an online course and an iTunes podcast; new seminar formats and seminars in new countries.
What will 2013 be for you? What words will represent your year?
Happy 2013 from me to you.
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