We all know that leadership is mainly about leading yourself. Leading yourself can also imply that you wish to change in certain areas. You are used to doing something in one particular way but you feel you can do it better, more efficiently in a different way. This triggers something in your brain. What you wish for, basically, is for your brain to learn a new habit. This new habit is then shaped in your brain as a new network of brain cells.
What you focus on grows
One of the most important aspects of managing yourself is becoming aware of your focus, because what you focus on, grows. If you direct your attention on being very busy, being busy becomes your main focus. If you focus on change, change will be brought about.
This is closely connected with the functioning of the brain. You might know the expression “neurons that fire together, wire together”. This means that brain cells that fire together, will start to connect. So if you focus on something, this will grow because your brain cells start to connect and form an even stronger network. This ability of the brain to change is called neuroplasticity.
Lately, neuroplasticity has been on my mind a lot. In particular the impact of neuroplasticity on leadership and on our daily lives. In simple terms, one could say that neuroplasticity means that if you give your actions, feelings and thoughts the right kind of attention, this can influence the result in a positive way. The fact is that attention and energy go hand in hand. So where your attention goes, your energy flows. And this flow of attention (and energy) is what actually sculpts your brain.
Linda Ray, the director of the neuroscience group, calls this attentional intelligence. For her, attentional intelligence is using your attention as a tool to change the network in your brain. So it is very important to figure out where your attention goes all day. I am positive that most of us check this a few times a day. But a few times is by no means enough. To tell the truth, during the day, we are anything but aware of where our focus is! And so, the change we wish for fails to occur. The key to change is attentional intelligence, or being continually aware of where your attention is and continually bringing your attention to the area you wish to change, because where your attention goes, grows.
Consequently, it is essential that leaders and managers develop attentional intelligence.
Most of the time, we will find that our attention is not at all in the area we’d like to focus on. We are distracted. We can be distracted by external circumstances, physical sensations, or time pressure. These distractions steer our thoughts and feelings away from our intended goal, causing different reactions. And we focus on something we didn’t want to focus on in the first place.
It takes at most 23 minutes to refocus
We are easily distracted. In Buddhism, a distracted mind is called your ‘monkey mind’. This is a mind that constantly responds to all sensory stimuli. If you let your monkey mind carry you along, the change you so dearly wish for won’t occur. You should be aware of the fact that every time you are distracted, it will take you up to 23 minutes to return to the desired area of focus. You can see that this has a tremendous effect on your daily productivity and the transition you envisage.
Order of things
In our training and coaching programs, a lot of attention is dedicated to training your attention. We like to do that in the following manner.
The first step is becoming aware of your capacity to direct your attention. Apparently, we have an ‘attention muscle’ we can train. If this muscle is sufficiently strong, you will learn how to direct your attention to what is essential to you. Your lasting transition has now become a reality.
The beauty of this science is that as you work with your attention, you effect an immediate change in your brain! The brain adapts very rapidly, so that the input you brain receives changes it on the spot.