Living in today’s society seems like more, always more. We want more information faster. We are busier than ever, more technologically connected, and in some ways we are achieving more. But we are also more distracted. I have attended several meetings recently where the meeting was no more than twenty minutes, but not one person was able to be present for the duration. We check our devices dozens if not hundreds of times a day. Sitting in silence seems like a lost art, as does listening fully to another person.
This is not to say our technology or our busy lives are wrong or bad. I was once an I.T. analyst, and I use technology to bring global teams together. But if we are not intentional, we may lose the capacity to choose how these tools and mindsets play out in our lives.
Research is fairly unanimous in saying that well-being hinges on our ability to be present in our experiences, emotions, and actions, whatever they may be. If you feel bored or sad, for example, the technique of sitting, breathing, and observing the boredom or sadness is scientifically proven to either shift the feeling or help you be okay with the feeling as it is. This pathway is hard to choose, however, when we have a million ways to distract ourselves from being bored or sad.
Are we losing our ability to choose? Once the habit of distraction is wired to our brain, it starts to spill over into other areas of our lives. Perhaps we are sitting at home enjoying a quiet moment with a loved one. Then we see a pile of stuff on our table out of the corner of our eye. We jump up to straighten it. Once that is done we move on to the next thing, and the next, the quiet moment forgotten.
All of this frightens me, but it is not too late to choose. Imagine you are the lead on a global team. You can set the tone and lead with intention. For example, multitasking on conference calls is almost a given. As the leader of the call, why not make the call much shorter but ask everyone to be completely present? Set ground rules letting people know you will be calling on them for input. Be present yourself and role model the behavior. Have a “this moment” check-in midway through the call, reminding everyone to be here and now.
When a team member comes to you with an issue, if you feel distracted either let them know when a better time to talk would be, or set everything aside and listen completely to them before planning your response in your mind. Or perhaps make mealtime with your friends a cellphone-free experience.
When I return to my birthday theme, less is more, I realize what my soul was saying to me. Less distraction means more connection to loved ones. Less harried busyness means more energy to focus on each client, each assignment, and each facet of my teams. Less saying “yes” out of hurriedness or default means more prioritizing what really matters.
This is not an easy journey and it will not be a straight line. And technology is a wonderful tool by which to share and facilitate collaboration. But let us not go gently to the endless winter night of distraction. Let us be aware while we still can be. Let us choose.