How Focus Changed my Thinking about Emotional Intelligence

In a second-grade classroom at a school in Spanish Harlem, the teacher told me that a child had come to class very upset: Someone she knew had been shot. The teacher then asked the students how many of them knew a person who had been shot—and every hand went up.

The children’s school was right next to a massive housing project were most of these children live. On top of the difficulties of such a childhood, half of the children in this class had “special needs,” ranging from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder to the autism spectrum. I expected the atmosphere to be chaotic.»

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The Role of Attention for Creativity

The relationship between attention and innovation is complex. As we know, managing your attention well falls within the EI domains of self-awareness and self-regulation.

But to better understand how attention plays a role in innovation, let’s first look at the stages of creativity.

First, you’ve got to recognize that there is a creative challenge. The research on innovation in business shows there are two approaches: exploitation and exploration. In exploitation the creative challenge is to find new ways to make the most of the products you’ve got. In exploration you look widely to see what else you could do that is new and different. »

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Social media, smartphones and focus

Ben Dickinson talks with Dan Goleman and others about tech and social media.

“Best-selling science writer and Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman is trying to get his head around some fresh numbers I’ve cited from a new Harris Interactive poll: Nearly 20 percent of smartphone owners ages 18 to 34 report having used their phones while having sex.

‘I don’t get how they do that. You know,’ Goleman adds drily from his phone in Martha’s Vineyard, ever the analytical rationalist, ‘they didn’t ask all the questions that follow from that data point.'”

Read the full article at


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The three kinds of focus every leader needs

Consider a hard-driving executive, one who focuses on his quarterly targets and goes through whatever personal heroics are needed to hit his numbers. A valuable asset to any company, right?

Well, it depends. Such executives, increasingly common in the working world, may be too focused on the numbers at the expense of empathy. Empathy – understanding how others think and feel and what your impact is on them – counts among three kinds of focus high-performing managers need today.

The other two are self-awareness and systems awareness. I refer to this triad as Inner, Other, and Outer focus. Executives need strengths in all three, and to use the right one at the right time.»

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Mindfulness: When Focus Means Single-Tasking

Alexander Graham Bell, noting how the sun’s rays ignite paper only when focused in one place, advised, “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.” Yet ordinarily our attention wanders, a sitting duck for whatever distraction comes our way – especially when our email inbox alone offers constant distractions that seem urgent, but are just not that important.

Then there’s multitasking, which really means switching from one narrow focus to another – the mind cannot hold more than one at a time in what’s called “working memory.” So interrupting one task with another can mean taking many minutes to get your original focus back to speed.»

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Empathy 101

“I like to understand how people see the world,” A CEO tells me. “It’s always different for each person. I’m fascinated by the ways people think about things, what’s important to them, how they put their world together.”

That natural curiosity about other people’s reality, technically speaking, signifies “cognitive empathy,” the ability to see the world through others’ eyes. Cognitive empathy is mind-to-mind, giving us a mental sense of how another person’s thinking works. It’s one of three kinds of empathy, each with a premium in the workplace and in relationships anywhere in our lives.

This way of tuning in to another person does more than give us an understanding of their view – it tells us how best to communicate with that person: what matters most to them, their models of the world, and what even what words to use – or avoid – in talking with them.»

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Three Quick Fixes for the Wandering Mind

It happens to all of us: you’re working away on something you’ve got to get done, and suddenly you realize that for quite some time you’ve been lost in a reverie about something else entirely. You don’t know when your mind went off track, nor how long you’ve been meandering down this one.

Our minds wander, on average 50 percent of the time. The exact rate varies enormously. When Harvard researchers had 2,250 people report what they were doing and what they were thinking about at random points throughout their day, the doing-thinking gaps ranged widely.

But the biggest gap was during work: mind-wandering is epidemic on the job

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The Moment I Knew: We Have a Focus Problem

Late for a meeting and snarled in bad traffic, I found myself texting while driving. “I’m on my way,” was the urgent message.

For a second or two, while typing that text, I was oblivious to the cars around me.

And then I thought, “Oh, no.”

Days before I had read one of the first studies showing that texting increases the risk of an accident as much as driving drunk. Just a few months later my state outlawed texting while driving.

That’s when I knew in my gut that our attention is under siege.

As I started to monitor attention itself, I noticed the signs of this mental incursion everywhere: the couple at a romantic restaurant staring at their phones instead into each other’s eyes, the meetings where people clandestinely check for texts or roam the web, the tweens at the bus stop checking updates on Facebook instead of talking with each other.»

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Why The 10,000 Hour Rule Is A Myth

The “10,000-hour rule” — that this level of practice holds the secret to great success in any field — has become sacrosanct gospel, echoed on websites and recited as litany in high-performance workshops. The problem: it’s only half-true.

If you are a duffer at golf, say, and make the same mistakes every time you try a certain swing or putt, 10,000 hours of practicing that error will not improve your game. You’ll still be a duffer, albeit an older one.

No less an expert than Anders Ericsson, the Florida State University psychologist whose research on expertise spawned the ten-thousand-hour rule-of-thumb, told me, “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.”

“You have to tweak the system by pushing,” he adds, “allowing for more errors at first as you increase your limits.”  Ericsson argues the secret of winning is “deliberate practice,” where an expert coach takes you through well-designed training over months or years, and you give it your full concentration.»

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Rich People Just Care Less

Turning a blind eye. Giving someone the cold shoulder. Looking down on people. Seeing right through them.

These metaphors for condescending or dismissive behavior are more than just descriptive. They suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States.

A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing.»

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