As technology plays a larger role in our personal and professional lives, discussions surrounding the concepts of “noise” and “digital vacations” become more frequent. Many of my friends and colleagues have taken a hiatus or left social platforms because of the distractions. But not all of us can simply take a tech hiatus. We have to find ways to manage technology, get the most out of it, and remain focused.
That’s why I’m excited to share with you today’s interview with internationally known psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of the New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence. His new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, delves into new findings from neuroscience and explains why attention is a mental asset that makes a huge difference in our careers and personal lives.
Dr. Goleman, your new book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence looks at our attention spans as the secret to high performance. What prompted you to write this book?
[Goleman] All of us are facing an onslaught of distractions – from texts, emails, smartphones – that has eroded our ability to pay attention in a sustained way. Yet the key to high performance is keen concentration.
I was first introduced to your work in Emotional Intelligence. Do you feel there’s still work to be done on the subject? If so, what direction would it take?
[Goleman] My book, Focus, details a next step in the evolution of emotional intelligence: adding the dimension of attention. The first part of emotional intelligence builds on self-awareness, which is the kind of attention that lets us make better decisions, lead an ethical life, know our strengths, and manage our disruptive emotions. The second part, empathy, lets us read others accurately, build feelings of closeness, and have our relationships go smoothly.
How do you see developing focus benefitting the business world?
[Goleman] Leaders who get good results contribute immensely to the bottom line of a company. There are three kinds of focus every high performance leader needs: inner, to lead themselves; on others, to influence and motivate the people they lead; and on the large systems that their company operates in, from the economy and the culture to the natural environment – understanding how these are shifting allows a leader to generate effective strategy. Leaders deficient in any one of these three will either be rudderless, clueless, or blindsided.
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Is there a connection between emotional intelligence and these areas of focus? Why or why not?
[Goleman] So focus – these kinds of attentions, have always been integral to emotional intelligence. In this book I explain how this works, and how we can strengthen these key mental abilities.
In Focus, you also share the concept of “smart practice”. Can you share with readers a brief definition?
[Goleman] Smart practice refers to the way champions get better in any domain of expertise, whether golf, chess, or surgery. While amateurs improve over about 50 hours of practice, they then plateau. But the pros keep learning – they seek out an expert coach who can tell them where to focus their practice next so they have a continual learning curve. That’s smart practice.
The need to manage through the digital noise isn’t going away anytime soon. We have to learn how to manage it; instead of letting it manage us.2