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Find Your Flashlight


Back in December I wrote an article about improving your attention and focus. I’ve thought a lot about the genesis of that article which is based on the book Peak Mind by Amishi Jha, PhD. In it, Dr. Jha writes about three subsystems of attention: orienting system, alerting system and central executive or executive function.


I’ve taken the thoughts from that book to be aware of my attention and focus, especially as it relates to having a conversation with someone. One of the first things Dr. Jha talks about is to be aware when you are distracted. We all have those moments of being in a conversation with someone and getting lost in other thoughts. Suddenly we realize that we haven’t heard what the other person talking to us said. Either we nod as if we heard every word or we ask them to repeat what they just said. I have been working in retail and need to listen to customers as they come in to talk about what they want. The use of Reflective Listening helps in focusing my flashlight.


Dr. Jha uses the image of a flashlight to help describe the orienting system of attention – “where you point your attention becomes brighter, highlighted and more salient. Whatever is not in the flashlight of attention is suppressed.” She goes on, “we have this fantastic capacity to willfully direct and select with this flashlight of ours. We can shine it at the person we’re with, into the past or into the future – anywhere we want, we can point it.”


I love this image of a flashlight. It truly reminds me of where I am directing my attention in the moment. Mindfulness is Dr. Jha’s solution. Being present and simply noticing when you are not paying attention. It’s not about being critical of an inability, rather a kind, re-centering of your focus on where you want it to be. My retail job is a great lab for me to test my flashlight attention and be mindful of when I am not focusing on the person or task at hand. I have found that this is not about intense effort, rather it’s a calm response to the present moment. It seems that the harder I try to focus, the less focused I am. This may be a bit counterintuitive, however research backs this up. Cognitive neuroscience has identified Vigilance Decrement to explain that the harder and longer we try something, performance declines. As leaders, we need to be aware of our own focus, or lack thereof, and to check on the people we lead to assess deadlines are sufficient to allow them to find the best solutions to the task at hand.


Can you find your flashlight of focus? Do you notice when you mind drifts and loses track of the task you are trying to complete? The opportunity is to take a soft approach to being present and not try too hard. Let me help you focus on the right things and set a strong course for 2022!

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