Part 3 of Attention
My wife consistently will remind me to put my phone away when we meet with friends, especially when we’re out for dinner. Occasionally she will kick me under the table as a reminder that I need to put my phone away. What this tells me is that I’m easily distracted from being present. The pull of the pings on the phone will keep me from what I should be doing: giving my full attention to the people in front of me! My executive function is distracted. I allowed the pull of the phone to take me away from being present to who I was with. A classic example of The Juggler not keeping me focused on what I needed be focused on.
The Juggler is Dr. Amishi Jha’s term for the executive function system of the brain and attention. It’s the subsystem that keeps us on track: either small goals for the near-term or long-term goals. According to Very Well Mind, “executive function is a set of cognitive skills that are needed for self-control and managing behaviors. You can think of executive function as the management system of the brain. These mental functions help us organize and manage the many tasks in our daily life.” Its job is to match goals with the behaviors needed. Businesses try to do the same thing: match everyone’s job with the goals and objectives (mission) of the organization. When jobs or people don’t match, there are problems with the end result.
Our executive function is important when we analyze information, maintain focus, plan, manage behavior, regulate emotions, remember details, staying organized, etc. The Juggler, when optimized, is important to keeping us present and mindful of our behavior as it relates to overarching goals. The key is to know when you are being distracted and mindfully bring yourself back to the task at hand. Like a kick in the shins as a reminder we’re not paying attention!
What can you do to stay on task and be present:
Break larger projects into smaller steps.
Step away when other thoughts take hold
Use visuals to remind yourself of the goals you have
Use visualization exercises to help solidify your processes
A quick review of the three systems for attention and Dr. Jha’s definition:
1. The Flashlight – orienting system – “where you point your attention becomes brighter, highlighted and more salient. Whatever is not in the flashlight of attention is suppressed.”
2. The Floodlight – alerting system – “its primary function is to call you to attention, to mobilize or shut-down your body and mind so that you’ll survive.”
3. The Juggler – executive function – the system that keeps us on track of our goals, both short-term and long-term.
Take stock of your attention and how these three images of the subsystem can help remind you to be present to the task(s) at hand!