We train our brain by the things we do. For example, experienced taxicab drivers have an abnormally large hippocampus, the portion of the brain responsible for navigation. Veteran violinists or keyboardists have an expanded motor cortex, the area of the brain associated with fine motor skills. Our brain is literally shaped by what we repeatedly do.
The website Lumosity.com claims to be able to harness the power of neuroplasticity—the notion that the brain is malleable and changes in response to repeated activities—to improve its members’ cognitive skills and teach them how to stay focused. However, the Internet may drain the brain as well as train it. Scientists have hypothesized that the habit of surfing the web, hopping from page to page without alighting on anything for more than a moment, actually impairs our neurological ability to concentrate. A similar worry is that we’re shrinking our attention span by constantly monitoring the texts, Tweets, and emails incessantly streaming into our smartphones, tablets, or computers.
The lessons of neuroscience hold for leadership. Fixing our attention on what’s truly valuable noticeably improves our capacity to function—leading to ever-increasing influence. Meanwhile, not knowing how to stay focused causes our talent and ability to atrophy.
Lack of concentration causes a leader to:
1. Waste time
The average person has between 35-40 hours of discretionary time per week. That is, time when they’re not working, sleeping, eating, cleaning, or running errands. That equates to almost 2,000 hours per year. Whether we spend that time fruitfully or frivolously has tremendous bearing on our success.
2. Misuse resources
When we’re unfocused, we allocate our resources poorly. We invest what we have into pursuits that offer little return. Worst of all, we misspend our energy, squandering our strength and vitality on unproductive and/or insignificant ventures.
The remedy for lack of focus comes from asking three questions over and over again.
- What are my interests?
- What are my gifts?
- Where are my opportunities?
The trick is to discover activities you enjoy doing and at which you naturally excel. These are your strengths. Then, you can search for the people to help you develop your strengths and for places in which to contribute your strengths in a meaningful way. Our interests evolve over time, we become more fully aware of our gifts with experience, and the opportunities around us are ever-changing. For these reasons, we constantly need to refocus. Asking the questions above is a simple exercise to assist you in fastening your attention on what matters most.
Thought to Ponder
How have you been able to focus on your strengths amidst the many distractions of life? Take a moment to share tips or strategies you’ve learned from your own leadership journey.