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December 4, 2015

To Get Ahead, Do Nothing!

Bhanu Khan

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©iStockphoto/andreusK
©iStockphoto/andreusK

While you're reading this, what else are you thinking of?

If you're focused on these words to the exclusion of all else, then bravo! You have achieved what many of us struggle to do: keep our minds focused on the task at hand. However, if you regularly find that your focus drifts during tasks or conversations, then you're certainly not alone.

I recently had a moment of self-awareness while in conversation with a relative. I realized that, though I was standing still, I was actually trying to do a lot of things at once: I was dividing my attention between logging any important things she was mentioning and the construction of a mental list of things I would need to do later that day. All the while, I was making the right sounds and nodding at the appropriate moments so that she wouldn't know that I was only half listening to her.

During the entire conversation, I was aware of my own mental chatter (telling me that if I couldn't get on with that list, I'd have another late night and would be tired tomorrow) and feeling increasingly stressed. Then, I realized she had been trying to get my opinion on where to hold a family birthday celebration. She had taken my noncommittal nodding to mean that I was unsure of the options, and she was going through the pros and cons of them all in great detail. In a moment of clarity, I realized that, by not giving her my full attention, I was wasting her time and energy, and my own. I shamefacedly snapped right back into the present and really got involved in the conversation.

Over the days that followed it, I thought about that conversation often and realized that my lack of attentiveness was not only affecting me at home, but also at work. I was being distracted easily and often, and my attention was rarely fully on the task at hand. This impacted my schedule, as it was taking longer to complete tasks.

When I researched how to pay attention, I saw that there is a wealth of resources and techniques available that can help you to increase your attentiveness. I decided to try one technique that I imagined would take the least effort: the 10-minute siesta. (David DiSalvo, writing for Forbes, explains why 10 minutes is the optimal period for this technique.)

The idea is to take a siesta lasting 10 minutes, once or perhaps twice during your day to improve cognitive performance. Sounds easy enough but, aside from the obvious appeal of napping instead of working, I wasn't convinced that it would work. And truthfully, on the day I decided to give it a go, I almost cancelled it so that I could get on with my work.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when, a short while after my siesta, I felt great. I was alert, gently energized, and ready to work! I could concentrate for longer periods of time, and when talking to people, I was better able to set aside the mental chatter that had previously become deafening. This meant that I was able to be "present" fully, and absorb more of what was said. I have used the technique regularly since then and it works every time. I genuinely recommend it to anyone who is slogging away but not necessarily getting ahead.

In situations where a siesta is not possible, there are lots of other techniques out there, and it's down to you to pick the one that suits you best. In particular, Mindful listening will increase your ability to focus and help you to avoid the mistakes and misunderstandings that occur when we can't listen properly.

How about you? Have you ever found yourself in a sticky situation as a result of not listening mindfully?

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2 comments on “To Get Ahead, Do Nothing!”

  1. I love taking a siesta, but I don't often have chance to do it. Definitely something to consider for the new year!

  2. We are living in an age of distraction that feeds (allows us) to attend to the lower sides of our existence and prevents us from being "present". I have read that 60000 thoughts go through our brains everyday. Most of them are a waste of energy. With regards to mind drifting in conversations, one of the things I do is approach the dialogue with an attitude of looking for a question to ask rather than waiting to talk

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