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How focused are you feeling lately?
Arrow sharp or all over the place?
Let’s dive into your awesome brain and how to fire up your focus to get more done in less time.
Focus Has Two Epic Foes
What reduces our ability to focus? Two key factors:
1-Cognitive Bottlenecks – this happens when you’re attempting to multi-task (which is actually task-switching—switching between tasks—since the brain can’t actually do two complex tasks at once). Chronic multitaskers cause excessive stress to their brain, which leads to mental exhaustion. Further, media multitasking (watching Netflix while constantly texting, for example) has been linked to reduced volume in the cingulate cortex, which helps to regulate emotions and behavior. If your ability to regulate emotions and behavior is compromised, your mental ‘boss’ has left the building. Welcome, anarchy!
2-Conflicting Goals – when you’re not sure which goal should be the priority, or if two or more goals are at odds with one another, say sayonara to focus. Your Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) is now hyperactive. Which is unfortunate, since the ACC supports key cognitive processes including decision-making, motivation, learning, assessing pros and cons, and monitoring for conflict and errors. The result? A little effort here, then a little effort there, then repeat, which is the same as being all over the place! See my blog citing Columbia’s research on goal achievement and the picture will become clear.
How To Fire Up Your Focus
I was coaching a team of leaders recently and learned–to my horror–that they had 13 “key” initiatives for the year. Thirteen? Seriously? Wait a sec, and ALL are key? The team was complaining about lack of focus, overwhelm, low motivation, yep, you guessed it, they were suffering from the second of the 2 above epic focus foes.
- Few (like 3-5) clear, limited goals. Don’t worry, each goal can have sub-goals! Few clear limited goals reduce the brain’s ACC burden, lights up the prefrontal cortex so everyone can have insights and aspiration, boosts learning and memory (hippocampus), delivers a most delicious brain cocktail of assorted neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) and hormones (oxytocin and more). Make sure you’re clear on the What, Why, When, and How of goal attainment. See our Kit 1 which breaks down the How’s—which is where most people stumble when pursuing their goals.
- Radical transparency helps everyone feel safety, belonging, mattering. How do you do this?
- Tell the truth – good news, bad news, include your team in what’s happening and help them see how they can make a positive and helpful difference. They have a hunch if things aren’t going well—best to just be upfront and move forward.
- Be consistent – is your decision making ambiguous? Communication unclear? Facial, body, voice messaging out of sync with what you’re saying? Check in with yourself, ask others how you come across, and tune up the amount of confidence you convey to your tribe.
- Give people power – let everyone have the degree of autonomy that’s appropriate for their capabilities. You want your team to experience performance satisfaction versus the pain of perpetual failure since they don’t have the capabilities they need and don’t see how to gain them.
- Be fair – set standards and stick to them. Fairness activates the ventral striatum and other reward areas of the brain. I call fairness out here as I still see entirely too much favoritism in the workplace, and it’s often due to unconscious cognitive biases. Best to be aware of yours, and then work to bust them. Besides, being unfairly treated activates the brain regions associated with disgust and conflict. Are you sure you want that in your workplace?
- Be situational – meanwhile, back on Earth, if a friend says “do I look fat in these jeans?” and your answer is yes, being diplomatic “you rock this other pair better than Elvis” is advised 😊. Know the level of transparency appropriate for the situation!
So… feeling focused now? Thought so. That’s how you roll!