6 Strategies Leaders Use To Access The Power of Presence
Oct 08, 2019
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."
- Herbert Simon
Focused attention. It is no secret that we live in an age where massive amounts of information are literally at our fingertips. What used to take hours or even days or weeks to obtain, can now be found simply by tapping into the browser of our smartphones or laptop computers. However, with this comes another challenge. With so much information available to us, and importantly, coming at us, it can be extremely difficult for us to focus our attention. This not only impacts our well-being and productivity; it can also have a dramatic impact on our relationships.
During almost any keynote speech I deliver, I bring someone on stage with me, and after adorning them in a martial arts uniform top and white belt, I begin to take them through some basic punching and defensive movements. As we begin, I can see in their eyes as their focus crystalizes on the task at hand. While they may be aware and even self-conscious of the sometimes hundreds of audience members watching, in just a few moments their attention is brought completely to our interaction and what I am instructing them to do.
After completing our demonstration, I will ask them what was moving through their minds as we were going through this exercise. Responses almost always include:
“I was focusing on my which was my right and which was my left hand.”
“I was focusing on when to duck your punch.”
“I was focusing on what you were telling me to do.”
I then ask them if they were thinking about anything related to their work or school, anything about their family or anything about any problems or challenges they are facing. The answer is always the same.
“No,” they will respond emphatically.
“So, you’re telling me you were present?” I will ask.
“Yes, I was present,” they will answer.
I then ask them what the results would be if they put that focused attention on one single project at a time at work, refraining from the distraction of text messages, phone calls, casual discussions, etc. What they conclude is they could actually speed up their productivity by slowing down on the amount of information coming their way.
But here’s where it really gets good. I then ask them what if the next time they were with a loved one, such as their kids, their significant other or a close friend, and they took away all distractions and were just with them totally, devoid of any other distractions. What would the impact be? What would the impact be on their relationships?
“All of this was foreseen way back in 1977 by Nobel-Prize winning economist, Herbert Simon. Writing about the coming information-rich world, he warned that what information consumes ‘is the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.’”
That is so profound, let me write that again.
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
As I have shared in the past, I write these blogs not only for my readers, but also for myself as a reminder. What is it they say, “Whatever you teach is what you most need to learn.”?
With that being said, here are 6 strategies I use (and have to opportunity to focus on even more consistently) that can help us to access the power of presence.
Get present with yourself – Take time each day just to be. I do this first thing in the morning through my meditation practice. It is easy to jump out of bed and get immediately on our devices to check out the latest of what is going on in the world or to check our latest batch of email messages, but I have found that taking time to just be and get in touch with myself each morning is the most important practice I can undertake in setting myself up for an enjoyable and productive day. Even if it is just for a few minutes, take time to just breathe and get in touch with yourself. Not only will you be more present and connected with yourself and those around you, but you will also have put yourself in a state where you will be much more ready to powerfully deal with the day’s challenges when they arrive.
Get present in taking mindful breaks – In their breakthrough book, The Power of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, talk about the importance of taking mindful breaks every 90 to 120 minutes. Take a look at any elite athlete (Loehr and Schwartz studied professional tennis player for their research). While they may practice anywhere from 4 to 8 hours each day, they never do so consecutively. Rather, they work very intensively for 1.5 to 2 hours and then take complete breaks to allow their bodies AND their minds to recover. Think about how you are doing your current days. Are you jumping from activity to activity until you collapse in a heap into bed at the end of the evening? Trust me, if elite professional athletes thought a non-stop schedule would work most effectively in their training, they would do it. When victory at a tournament and potentially millions of dollars are on the line, working in the most efficient and effective manner is paramount. Where do you have an opportunity to take mindful breaks during your day to recharge and tap into the power of presence?
Get present with who you are with – The health and quality of relationships is anchored in the power of presence. Think about the last time you really connected with someone. It didn’t have to be a long period of time in terms of hours. In fact, it could have been a connection that lasted just a few minutes, but it was profound for both people involved because they were truly with one another, removed from outside distractions. For example, as a father and martial arts instructor, I have had the opportunity to observe many parents interact with their children throughout the years (as well as experience interactions with my own boys). What I have observed is that parents who are completely present with their kids when interacting with them are then able to continue with conversations or activities they are engaged in while their child goes off and plays or embarks in an educational endeavor. Conversely, those parents who consistently give only partial attention to their kids during their interactions, always seem to have children who are asking for their attention constantly and interrupting their conversations with other adults. When given only partial attention and presence, kids never seem fulfilled and are always asking for more. When full attention is given, even for brief periods, most kids are fine to entertain or be by themselves. I have come to believe that “we are all big kids, anyway”. That being said, where do you have an opportunity to up-level your game in truly being present with those you are with?
Get present with what you are doing – Whether it is small project or a major undertaking, our greatest level of effectiveness comes when we are totally present with what we are doing. In his book, Deep Work, author Cal Newport talks about the importance of focusing on only our most important projects when we are engaged with them, refraining from allowing any other distractions from coming into our field. This means, letting go of checking email, cellphones, social media and other distractions and being involved only on what we have identified as our most important projects. When I am on my game, I do this by concentrating on my most import projects, first thing in the morning, when I am most fresh and alert. That does not mean beginning my project after droning through email messages or social media, but actually refraining from any other activity until after I have completed (or at least intently worked on) what I have identified as my most important project first thing in the day. I challenge you to give this a try. I believe you will find like me that focusing on our most important task, without delay or interruption, will not only bring with it a higher degree of effectiveness, but also greater feelings of happiness, accomplishment and satisfaction with our work, as well.
Get present with where you are going – Beginning each day with silent contemplation and visualization for what you chose to undertake on a given day is an immensely powerful practice that I have used for years. As a competitive martial arts athlete, I learned the power of visualization in positively impacting my performance. I soon realized that this same concept and practice could be used to impact my everyday life. Beginning each day with visualizing the day ahead, with its numerous interactions and undertakings and seeing them unfold as you wish, or even better, is a powerful tool with getting present and can make noticeable impact in your life. It is very common for me to positively visualize my entire day in the first hour of being awake. What meetings, conversations, physical workouts, speeches, writing, project undertaking will I embark upon and how do I want them to unfold? Visualizing only the best for what I want to happen has become an invaluable tool for me. Even when things don’t go as planned (and they most oftentimes do) the presence I created around this event provides me with the wherewithal to adapt in the need of change and flexibility. The key is to visualize what you want in a positive manner. Or like one of my teachers once said to me, “If you are going to visualize, you might as well win.”
Get present with where you’ve been – Taking time each day to reflect upon the day just completed is powerful practice in presence of what you have accomplished and where you want to go in the future. Two great questions to end each day with are, “What did I learn today?” and “What am I grateful for?”. In completing each day with an inventory of the day just past, we have the ability to anchor our learnings and feelings about the day and use them to create intention and momentum for the next day ahead. Plus, according to author Robert Emmons in his book Thanks, those who journal at least 5 things each night that they are grateful for, sleep much better than those who do not and report a 25% increase in their levels of reported happiness. Anyone else interested in better rest and more happiness?
This week, I challenge all of us to slow down and get present. Remove the distractions that keep us from being in the now. Implement strategies that allow your mind to slow down so you can increase your focus and be at the top of your game when the need arises. Remember, it is not always about accessing more information and creating more activity. Great leaders know that a wealth of information/activity can cause a poverty of attention, productivity and happiness.
Black Belt Leadership Speaking & Coaching
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