“I’m about to take that Blackberry and throw it out the window!” I can still remember that frighteningly calm yet fierce moment when my sweet, tender wife caught me completely gazing at my phone scanning for emails instead of talking and connecting with her. I was practicing my own advice I give my clients to spend a few minutes connecting with their families right when they walk in the door from work. However, my version of connecting unfortunately did not exclude my Blackberry. Until that day.
I assumed my normal “connecting” routine in the kitchen hanging out with my wife, attempting to engage her in conversation about her day. However, by the time she turned to inquire about my day, I had already been captured by that evil red blinking light on the Blackberry that screams out, “Look! You’re important! Somebody needs you…right now!” Somehow, whatever my wife had been saying got trumped by my need for impulsive multitasking to achieve efficiency in life.
I had, up to that point, never fully realized that multitasking had a downside when it involves relationships. In fact, its not just a downside. Scientifically, multitasking is actually a myth. Although numerous studies over the years support this fact, I like how Daniel Goleman succinctly sums up the brain science in his book, Focus.
“Rather than having a stretchable balloon of attention to deploy in tandem, we have a narrow, fixed pipeline to allot. Instead of splitting it (i.e.“multi-tasking”), we actually switch rapidly. Continual switching saps attention from full, concentrated engagement.”
Hmmm… full, concentrated engagement. I don’t think that’s how my wife would describe my connecting all those years.
So…I tried several different “tricks” to curb the gravitational pull of multitasking until I found a few behaviors that stuck. These habits eventually helped me turn my habit of distraction into a habit of connection, and discover how to fully focus on people, period.
Here are a few ways you too can give yourself the gift of focus with people in your life…
1) Shape the path for change
Too big an effort for change triggers the brain’s fear response and creates resistance. Instead, make change simple. Choose one small behavior that will directly effect change in your specific situation. For me, at home, shaping the path for removing distraction meant intentionally leaving my phone in my car when I got home and not fetching it until bedtime (since its my alarm). By the way, I exchanged the Blackberry for the iPhone so that I could eliminate that pesky red blinking light. What would shaping the path of change look like for you?
2) Shift your mindset from what to who
Intentionality begins with a focus on who we are before its about what we do. I like how John Ortberg quotes the late Dallas Willard in Soul Keeping, “The most important thing in life is not about what you achieve, its about who you become.” For me, my focus on who I wanted to be as a husband and father helped me create a habit of walking in the house and immediately fully hugging and embracing every child and especially my wife. In fact, I found that my wife especially wanted to stay tightly embraced, as if she’s needed that one hug from me all day. This small habit re-focuses my attention with clarity in those moments. Start with who and your what will be more aligned. You’ll find your focus.
3) Step into the other’s moment
We are distracted relationally when we are focused on what we need to be doing. Instead, when we focus on the person with whom we are engaged at the moment, we can fully enter the other’s world, perspective, needs, etc… This is simply listening to fully understand what’s happening for that person in the moment. For me, I wanted to really get out of my thoughts on work and not stand there and be physically present, going through the motions. So, one small habit I found was, after my hug embrace, I simply asked one question, “How can I help right now?” In our house, with four young children, there is always something that needs attending to until they are all in bed asleep. This one question was my way to re-focus my attention on entering my wife’s world and my family’s world.
What one next step will YOU take this week to get your life back in focus on the people who matter most?