In a break between meetings towards the end of a long, long week, I lay down on my office floor doing some stretching, deep breathing and quiet thinking. As I lay there, I looked around at my bookshelves. 6 book shelve full of books which I have read over the past 20 years (not including the 150 or so on my kindle which I’ve read over the past couple of years). It struck me that these books have shaped who I am because I have given them an enormous amount of my attention. Think about it, our attention is a finite resource and where we spend it has a huge significance on the eventual shape of our lives. So if I give a lot of attention to TV and to mindless entertainment I will become a shallow celebrity obsessed imitation of a human being! If I give lots of my attention to myself, I run the grave risk of becoming trapped in my narcism (see previous posts for some thoughts on this). I give a lot of attention to understanding the needs of others, then I am going to become a person full of love and compassion. I have spent 20 years giving lots of attention to the writings of great people to help me understand the nature of God, of myself, of others, of organisations and of our society, and I hope and trust this has made me a man who can actually now be of use to lots and lots of people in all kinds of ways.
Sounds pretty simple doesn't it? However there are some challenges with this.
Firstly, we don’t often think about how we ‘spend’ our attention. It just ceaselessly flows from us.
Secondly, our attention wanders down the path of least resistance - self, TV, Facebook etc. It takes effort to invest our attention in challenging things like learning a new language, developing our spiritually, understanding the needs of our kids.
Thirdly, the effects of how we spend our attention creep up on us over time. This means that years, indeed most of a lifetime, can pass before we reap the consequences of frittering away our attention on unimportant, or even downright destructive things. The investment horizon for attention is many years.
So let me invite you to do some homework this weekend.
Step one: conduct an attention audit - think back over this past week and ask yourself, ‘to what did I really pay attention this week?’
Step two: now ask yourself this question, ‘if I keep paying attention to things I paid attention to this week, without change, what sort of person will I be in 10 years time?’
Step three: then ask yourself, ‘is this who I really want to be, and if not, what changes do I need to make in where I invest my attention?’
(As an aside, it is entirely possible, and helpful, to apply this way of thinking to the organisations we lead. Try it out with your team on Monday!)
What did you learn about yourself, or your team?
Can I help you on your journey?