Focus by Daniel Goleman – Bestselling author Daniel Goleman returns with a groundbreaking look at today’s scarcest resource and the secret to high performance and fulfillment: attention
For more than two decades, psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman has been scouting the leading edge of the human sciences for what’s new, surprising, and important. In Focus, he delves into the science of attention in all its varieties, presenting a long overdue discussion of this little-noticed and under-rated mental asset that matters enormously for how we navigate life.
Attention works much like a muscle: use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows. In an era of unstoppable distractions, Goleman persuasively argues that now more than ever we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to contend with, let alone thrive, in a complex world.
We’re almost a decade into the rise of the smartphone empire and among many great benefits, we suffer one phenomenal loss as a result – our attention goes out the window.
If your life feels like a series of quick hits and dopamine fixes, it’s time to put the smartphone on airplane mode for a while. Relying on these devices more than on our minds has left us with an attention span that’s less than that of a goldfish. Now that’s something to worry about.
Daniel Goleman aims to give you some of it back with Focus, and calls it the hidden driver of excellence. It is a book about mindfulness, willpower, leadership, empathy and success.
Here are 3 lessons to help you zone in on what’s important:
- Once your brain feels fried, just let your thoughts wander.
- You can’t do anything better for your willpower than work on something you love.
- Think of distant problems as immediate to better plan for the future.
Do you feel focused? If not, we’re about to fix it!
Lesson 1: When you just keep staring at the screen, let your mind wander.
The first thing you should know about is open awareness. All kinds of attention are valuable – not just the one that’s laser-sharp and focused. When you find your mind wandering a lot, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wandering in the wrong direction.
Sometimes taking a break is exactly what we need, because it makes our mind wander towards the thing we’ve been dying to figure out. For most of us downtime seems to be a luxury we can’t afford, but in reality, we can’t afford not to relax, because when you keep staring at the screen and can’t seem to make any sense of what’s in front of you, you’ll only get frustrated and perform even worse.
Especially if your work requires intense focus, which is true for engineers, software developers, writers and mathematicians, for example, it’s important to let your mind roam freely and practice “mindlessness” sometimes. For example, when you take a walk outside and leave your work at your desk, your subconscious starts to come up with creative ideas based on you being openly aware of your surroundings.
Studies have found that we can generate up to 40% more original ideas when letting our minds rest.
Lesson 2: The best way to improve your willpower is to do something you love.
But sometimes you really do need to work on something for several hours in a focused manner, ideally in the state of flow. What you need to make that happen is willpower. You might know that nutrition, sleep and exercise are important determinants of how much willpower you can muster, but Daniel Goleman discovered one I bet you haven’t heard about: doing work you love.
Studies have recently found that the psychological component of willpower is a lot bigger than we thought, meaning most of it actually comes from your mind, not your body. The reason your willpower gets stronger if you do something you love then, is that if your work reflects your goals, it becomes effortless.
Late nights, confronting big obstacles and the patience you need until you see it through come a lot easier when you’re 100% convinced that what you’re doing is the exact right thing for you to do.
As an example Goleman mentions George Lucas, who, when creating the original Star Wars, went rogue and split from his production company – an incredibly difficult move at the time – because he was afraid his creative vision would be compromised. In the end, because he believed in his idea, he did everything that was necessary to make it a success.
Lesson 3: Imagine distant problems as immediate to make better long-term decisions.
I bet you have a dream. A crazy one. Something no one really cares about, but you. And even before you knew that working on it might boost your willpower, I’m sure you wanted to. But you didn’t.
It’s the first 10 pages of your manuscript that are sitting inside your desk drawer since 2012. The scaffold that collects dust in your attic. The high school reunion party you never threw. These things make life worth living, and are what we all want to accomplish in that short time we’re here – yet we keep procrastinating on them, because they don’t have deadlines.
The regret of having had a shitty life is too far away to cause you to panic now, because it’ll only come when you’re too old to change it.
But Goleman says if you imagine these problems as serious, immediate threats (for example climate change, same thing) right now, then you can stop choosing what makes you happy in the short-term, but doesn’t solve the problem.
Traffic jams are often solved by building new highways, but all that does is create more room for traffic jams and therefore, actually promotes them. Focus on the larger context and imagine the consequences of long-term issues as happening tomorrow, not 50 years from now, and you’ll make much better decisions in the here and now.
Table of Contents:
- The subtle faculty
- Attention top and bottom
- The value of a mind adrift
- Finding balance
- The inner rudder
- Seeing ourselves as others see us
- A recipe for self-control
- The woman who knew too much
- The empathy triad
- Social sensitivity
- Patterns, systems, and messes
- System blindness
- Distant threats
- The myth of 10,000 hours
- Brains on games
- Breathing buddies
- How leaders direct attention
- The leader’s triple focus
- What makes a leader?
- Leading for the long future.
Goleman boils down attention research into a threesome: inner, other, and outer focus. A well-lived life demands we be nimble at each. Goleman shows why high-achievers need all three kinds of focus, as demonstrated by rich case studies from fields as diverse as competitive sports, education, the arts, and business.
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Those who excel rely on what he calls Smart Practices such as mindfulness meditation, focused preparation and recovery, positive emotions and connections, and mental “prosthetics” that help them improve habits, add new skills, and sustain excellence. Combining cutting-edge research with practical findings, Focus reveals what distinguishes experts from amateurs and stars from average performers.
Ultimately, Focus calls upon readers not only to pay attention to what matters most to them personally, but also to turn their attention to the pressing problems of the wider world, to the powerless and the poor, and to the future, not just to the seductively simple demands of here-and-now.
Originally published: 2013
Genre: Self-help book