Week two of Daniel Goleman’s course on Emotional Intelligence is Focus. How do we screen out the distractions of our lives to focus on the work at hand? Focus and Self-Awareness go hand-in-hand. It seems that achieving focus requires us to be aware of the thoughts and emotions we are feeling at any given time, along with the distracting thoughts racing through our minds when we are trying to focus on another.
Several years ago, the corporate buzz word was multi-tasking. How many things could you be doing at once? Review financials while talking to someone on the phone, while sending out e-mails to others about an upcoming meeting. In the end, I always felt exhausted and rarely did my best work on any one thing, when there were so many things calling for my attention. My studies in EI and neuroscience taught me that multi-tasking is somewhat impossible to do very effectively and can reduce our IQ in those moments.
DGEI suggests focus is tied to comprehension, memory and learning; sensing how we feel and why; and reading emotions in others. There are two main distractions: 1) Sensory and 2) Emotional. As most people do, I get most distracted in emotions, the more disruptive the worse it gets. I try to keep an even keel, but most times I’m just masking what is underneath the surface.
There were two slides that really helped me understand these concepts.
Bottom Up Focus
- Happens in the lower part of the brain
- Habitual routine
Bottom Up triggers our survival mechanisms and identifies what we perceive as threats. A lot of addictions, overspending and reckless behaviors come to mind here. Though this works well most of the time, it can certainly rear its ugly side. Our biases can reside here.
Top Down Focus
- Imposes goals on the brain.
- Responsible for self-control
- Able to learn new habits
Top Down takes mindful awareness and effort. It turns out awareness can be improved. This class spends time teaching mindful breathing or meditation. I’ve known about taking “mindful moments” or centering oneself before a meeting or activity/event. I practiced this not only during the meditations, but also taking a mindful run where I focused on the sound passing cars made. What I found is that my mind really wants to wander away from that. Though I can focus for a few moments, I constantly had to remind myself to re-focus on the cars passing by. It takes considerable effort to stay focused. It’s not about doing something wrong when concentration slips, but rather allowing it to be a natural part of life and gently bringing attention back into the original focus.
What I’ll remember most from this week was the thought of a stop light: “Stop before you act”. Identify what color light (emotion) is shining for me at that moment:
RED – stop and get calm (take a few mindful breaths)
YELLOW – proceed with caution and review potential consequences.
GREEN – choose your best option and move forward.
I remember a boss of mine saying, “Don’t fall in love with a project.” In reflection, it seems that all to often we fall into the emotions of something that’s too good to be true, or the opposite and we can’t see any good in it. Either way our emotional state is important to identify what our best option may be and to remain calm to allow our best thinking to take over.
Next Week: Emotional Balance….