A Present That Will Change You Forever- If You Pay Attention
My colleague said it to 300 of our staff this week. Under 11 cricket coach Paul told it to the team as they disbanded for the season. Two stories. The same message. Powerful stuff for success in business and in life. And here it is for you. A gift indeed.
Coach Paul to the 11 young boys: “Cricket is more than a game. It teaches you lessons in life. Of resilience, courage, focus.” My colleague said it as we trained 300 in customer service excellence last week. “The most critical skill we have is to be great listeners. To do this, we have to master the skill of concentration- to be absolutely present at all times.”
I can be brilliant at this. And absolutely terrible. When on form, I flick an imaginary switch in my back and, kapow!, become totally present for a series of complex meetings. Or when off my game, I can attend, but be in other Walter Mitty worlds, adding nothing, slowing others down. You see- I titled this post as a present for you, and that present quite simply is this:
Keep working, always, on your skills to be PRESENT in everything you do.
In cricket, it’s about batting, and the next ball you face. A good batsmen’s concentration is 150% in the moment- the bowler running in, the field positions, the glare, the likely bounce and pitch…totally focus, ball is bowled, shot played…and then…aaaaah…relax, look around, breath. Then it starts again, total focus on the next ball…. Nothing else matters, there is no room for day dreaming and ‘what if’s?’.
It’s more than just durability and stamina- though that is part of it. It is about training yourself to become brilliant at concentration. IMF chief Christine Lagarde is famous for all three- durability, stamina, awesome concentration.
Eighty percent of the time I am totally ‘on,’ and my ability to stay focused and deep in a topic is excellent. My work day typically involves 8 to 10 meetings, every day, on an incredibly wide range of issues and topics. I move from one to the next without pause, and have to be able to switch every ounce of energy and focus from one topic to another.
And here’s the problem. Twenty percent of the time I am distracted, disengaged, not present. All feel it. It’s disrespectful. And you are a waste of space.
I remember only too well being in a meeting with the CEO when I said something that showed I had not been focused (I was doing a ‘to do’ list while he and the other attendee talked). “Keep up,” he growled. That hurt. Because first, it was fair, and second, I am a ‘concentration’ ninja and had let myself and the others down. And I recall saying the same thing to a colleague in a meeting in Asia, and can still vividly see the hurt on his face. He knew it was fair, and knew he could have done better.
So- keep working on your powers of concentration and your ability to be absolutely ‘present’ in every meeting and conversation you have. I find it hard to do. Very. I keep performance high through coaching myself constantly, every day… “Chris- you’re now meeting with Person X. The topic frustrates you. Now- get interested, get enthusiastic, think about the aspects of the meeting that will be fun, it will just take 45 minutes, stay 100% focused and engaged, make it a great meeting, and you know what? You might even enjoy it!”
As my mind drifts away to the curry I plan to eat in two hours, I snap myself back on track. “STOP!”, I say to myself. “Think curry later. Now- get focused.” Sometimes I even say to the people I am with: “I am sorry- my mind drifted. I do apologize. Would you mind repeating the last two sentences. I want to make sure I don’t miss a thing.” Most times they respond with patience, and appreciation- they know it’s hard to stay focused, and respect a transparent effort to do just that.
A bit weird no doubt. But it works- most times- for me. How about you? How do you help yourself stay present as often as possible?