Focus and Open Awareness – the battle of the left and the right brain

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”The intuitive mind is a sacred gift; the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”


Albert Einstein[/quote]

Albert Einstein’s above statement may in fact be more fitting in today’s society than ever before. Due to the excessively high volume of information we process on a day to day basis, it is important to recognise the balance between the information quality and quantity. In neurological terms, the left side of the brain is analytical and detail-oriented and it produces the continuous brain chatter, jumping from one thought to another, where the right brain thinks intuitively and holistically, and learns through the senses. However, we tend to live in a left-brained world and utilising our intuitive minds is commonly neglected as it is seen as a distraction to our rational thoughts – waste of our practical brainpower.

Image result for intuitive brainOur brains are at a constant go and the flow of serendipitous and novel thoughts and insights is – often deliberately – avoided, for we are told that the ultimate key to success is to focus; focusing your mind, focusing your thoughts and keeping your eye on the target. One of the scientific reasons behind the left- brain taking over our thoughts is the fact that it not only rationalises, but also justifies whereas the right-side responds to any negative consequences or feedback with intuition rather than justification. So in order to protect ourselves, we rationalise and justify our behaviour. But when we are over-utilising our left-brain, intensely focused on the facts, how are we able to simultaneously remain curious and creative? Although remaining focused can of course bring us success, this focus can also be counter-productive in many ways; shaping into a narrow-minded approach, a ‘tunnel vision’, and in result we are losing awareness of what is happening around us. So the question is: how can we find a degree of balance for our thoughts and ideas, fluctuating somewhere between a state of unimaginativeness and a scatterbrain?

Internationally renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman introduced a term open awareness, meaning a form of attentiveness and a source of creativity, characterised by being utterly receptive of whatever floats into one’s mind. This allows our minds to be open to imagination and open to surprise. However, achieving the state of open awareness is not necessarily a simple or speedy process. When you think about it, for many of us it can be a somewhat uncommon experience in our modern society to be in complete solitude, in the company of nobody else but ourselves. This is to not only be alone in our thoughts but also digitally away from everyone else – no gadgets, no smartphones, no alerts or messages. This is the type of solitude and awareness that can allow our minds to wander.

Neurological studies suggest that half of our thoughts are in fact daydreams – drifting thoughts that switch from personal problems to unresolved dilemmas. However, this is often when novel connections are made and creative insight happens. All of us can relate to a time when the problem we should have been focusing our thoughts on can seem too intimidating or challenging to consciously process or think about, and then, out of the blue, we experience an ‘a-ha’ moment in the midst of our wondering thoughts. Our minds have unconsciously, or unthinkingly, done the thinking for us.

In addition to generating new ideas, Goleman suggests that other benefits for this mind-wandering are self-reflection and the navigation of social situations. Whilst self-reflection increases our awareness of ourselves, the reflection of social situations increases our awareness of others.  However, perhaps crucially, another benefit is simply giving the brain a restoring break. Our brain can be like an overworked muscle if we stay intensely focused for too long — it gets tired when we push to the point of cognitive exhaustion. But taking a break can help regain focus and make you more productive. We all need time and space to reflect and let our thoughts run free and letting the mind wander is important for attention restoration. For an effective restoration that will truly revive your brainpower, we should avoid the kind of activity that puts a demand on our attention. Such activities as meditation or walking through a park or a forest, or generally being part of the nature can trigger bottom-up attention in our brain and thus giving the higher level – top-down – circuits a break, which effects in general improvement in one’s cognition. By increasing the right-brain we increase not only our awareness of the differences of the left and the right brain, but also the balance and productivity of our thoughts and actions.

In conclusion, we must remember that not all information is necessarily power and sometimes we may need to take a break. We need to go beyond the facts and tap into our right brain; letting the open awareness of our intuition and imagination take over the excessive flow of information to reach our ‘a-ha’ –moment.

Mindful Meetings

Meetings are often seen either a good opportunity to catch up with colleagues, or a time-consuming interruption to the working day as opposed to productive pockets of time for all involved. They mostly seem to be viewed in a similar light to fire drills, a necessary evil, but undeniably a significant drain on company time and resources. The main problem is often that they lack any clear structure or objectives. Certain guidelines can help establish best practice when it comes to meetings, for organisers and attendees alike.

Don’t engage in “death by PowerPoint”. If a meeting is going to consist of a staff member reading a set of slides aloud, then simply circulate the slide set and/ or any other relevant material to all those who will be attending the meeting. If the meeting is still necessary, decide what the agenda is and work from there – not from a deck of slides that others are perfectly capable of reading in their own time.

Time is money, if a meeting is attended by eight people and lasts for one hour, this represents one working day in terms of company time. Similarly a meeting with 6 people that starts 10 minutes late represents an hour of company time lost. Keep this in mind when organising meetings and ensure that they start on time for maximum efficiency in terms of use of company time. The same goes for finishing on time, don’t let a meeting run over, stay within the timelines as much as possible.

Finish a meeting early if nothing is being accomplished, or indeed if the objectives have been accomplished. Don’t let it drag out to the allocated time simply because it has been scheduled for a certain period. Also, try to keep it within an hour, an hour and a half maximum to ensure that people remain focused and engaged.

Be the most present person at the meeting by paying attention to what is happening there and then. Put aside your phone – if a meeting is important enough to attend, it should be important enough to receive your undivided attention. Multi-tasking is a myth, if you are splitting your attention in two directions, you are not giving either your full attention and as such will miss elements of each. Show you are engaged by asking questions and engaging in the discussion.

Do sum up what has been discussed and agreed at the end of the meeting. It can also be helpful to create a memo outlining these points and circulate it to all attendees, ensuring clarity on what has been agreed upon and making people accountable for what they have agreed to do.

If you have to leave a meeting early, make sure the speaker/organiser is aware in advance and do so with as little disruption to others as possible.

Finally, consider whether a meeting is in fact required or, whether a group email to all the relevant people would suffice? Equally, a lot of time and effort can be saved by having a meeting as opposed to a lengthy email discussion on a subject. Consider what the objective of the meeting is and establish how this would be best achieved.

Six Top Tips for Managing Workplace Stress – from the Sunday Business Post 9th October 2016

Workplace stress can be challenging to manage. But learning how to deal with it is vital, both in terms of how you feel about your work and how you are perceived by others. It is important to learn how to manage it in order to maintain your own health as well as protecting your personal brand.

Deep breaths – simply taking the time to focus on your breathing can be helpful in managing stress, breathing in through your nose to the count of five and breathing out through your mouth, also to a count of five can help alleviate feelings of stress.

Practice saying no. every time you say yes to a request, you are effectively saying no to something else. Your time is a valuable resource – treat it as such. It’s important that you are in control of your schedule and tasks – to an extent of course. Don’t feel as though you have to volunteer or agree to everything that comes up. Take control of your time and use it to work towards your objectives and your team’s objectives.

Organisation – plan ahead – but expect changes. Organisation is key to managing stress in the workplace. By planning ahead and thinking about what could go wrong, you give yourself the opportunity to put measures in place to deal with such events, should they occur. Not only will this reduce your stress over worrying about what could happen, it will also help alleviate stress if it does happen.

Get out – if you usually eat a rushed lunch over your desk, take the time to get out – even if it’s only for 20 minutes of fresh air. The combination of fresh air and exercise will help relax you and clear your mind for the latter part of the day – helping avoid that 3pm slump. An additional benefit to exercise is that it can help you sleep. Adequate amounts of sleep are crucial for dealing with stress and unfortunately stress can have a negative impact on sleep quality, so use exercise to help you get your required amount of sleep in order to reduce those stress levels.

Ask for help – don’t be afraid to delegate – many people find themselves under stress in work because they are trying to do everything themselves, either because they don’t want to burden others or because they think that they are the only ones capable of completing certain tasks properly. By delegating to others, you will not only relieve your own stress, but you will be giving someone else the opportunity to learn. Furthermore, this display of trust will help build your working relationships, which in itself can lead to a reduction in stress.

Finally, take a break! How long has it been since your last holiday? No matter what your job, you should be able to find time to take a break. Taking a holiday not only allows you to recharge your batteries, it can also increase your levels of creativity. If possible take a complete break from work, but if this isn’t possible and you need to put in some work time while away, then do it – just try and keep it to a certain time of the day as opposed to being on call 24-7.

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Four Things You Probably Didn’t Know About High Potential Employees – Forbes Oct 19th 2016

We’ve been making telling our clients these points for over a decade!