Footballers, Doctors and Archers

Success is a buzzword today. Go and ask University students and corporate executives what they want to do in life and inevitably ‘success’ will make an appearance in their answers. The question that comes to mind is: What is success? It may be different things for different people — for some it may be related to family and for others, work; for some it may be monetary and for others about contribution to society. No matter the definition, what is important is that we have one.

What is success to you? Answering this question builds the foundation. Success for the archer is to hit the bull’s eye, for the doctor, it is to cure the patient, and for the footballer, it is to score the goal. What bull’s eye are you trying to hit? What malaise do you want to heal? What goal are you looking to score? Once established, this becomes your definition of success.

Then, there is the essential question of where you are at present. The footballer may think of the current status of his teammates and the opposing team. He will also consider time and location. The archer will consider the wind and the landscape, along with his standing in relation to it all. You need to discover and assess where you are. With respect to things that will help you achieve your goal, where do you stand right now, internally and externally?

Then comes the last step. With cure as the goal and an understanding of the current reality, the doctor may determine that he needs a few more tools and an assistant. What does the archer need? A more slender arrow or maybe extra practice. What is it then that you require, to move from where you are to where you want to be?

This completes your plan. Remember though, this was the event — now comes the process. The event is based on vision and the process requires action. Action. Nothing less, nothing more.

Go With The Flow

Lack of focus is undoubtedly one of the lethal performance killers. Workplace surveys reflect that a scarily large number of employees are usually disengaged primarily due to a foggy, stressed or wandering mind which compromises performance. It takes a mighty effort to shun away all the distractions (both physical & emotional) and concentrate all energies on the task at hand.

I have been struggling with focus myself for a quite a while. I am always on the lookout for some inspiring material on this subject, and recently came across an incredible book on Focus by Daniel Goleman. Thanks to my colleague (Asif) for recommending this book. A brilliant read on the anatomy & dynamics of focus. This article encapsulates highlights from the subject book.

Disengagement at work can be associated to a whole range of factors such as low motivation, lack of challenge, inadequate financial tradeoffs, a discouraging boss, workload , constant stream of technological teasers ( buzz of a mobile or ‘bing’ of a new mail).

According to brain science, the primary reason of disengagement is absence of “FLOW”. People are rarely in flow in their daily lives. They are mostly stressed or bored. Research shows that 20 % people have a ‘flow ‘ moment at least once a day. Around 15 % of people never enter ‘flow’.

What is “FLOW”? Just like music, flow is a state of harmony. A melody is created and music flows when different instruments are in sync. Similarly, flow is a state of neural harmony, a rich, well timed connection between diverse brain areas. There are two vital parts of the brain, the top down and bottom up, When these parts are in sync, we are more likely to perform at our best. It results in high engagement, a state of full absorption; we enjoy carrying out the tasks and feel good about it. Pleasure is the emotional marker of flow.

To understand the dynamics of flow, we need to take a closer look at the two drivers of our mind. Our brain has two semi independent, largely separate operating systems. The ancient brain is called bottom up mind, whereas the relatively modern brain. which has evolved over the centuries, is called top down brain. Both play a phenomenal role in defining who we are and how we operate.

The Bottom Up Brain or Narrative Brain

• This fast and furious part of our brain works like a flash, operates in milliseconds
• it is involuntary and automatic, never sleeps , may dose off for a while though
• It forms intuition through a network of neural associations
• Highly impulsive in nature and is driven by emotions
• This part of the brain fathers all our habits and is usually change averse

Top Down Brain – Direct Experience

• It has evolved over a period of time, flexible and reflective
• It has limited capacity and consumes a lot of energy to operate, no wonder a focused task leaves us exhausted and drained out
• It is voluntary and effortful
• This is the seat of self control and has the tendency to overpower and challenge old habits and emotionally driven impulses
• It is a willing learner, capable of making new neural connections

Power of choice, will power & voluntary attention are top down functions whereas bottom up brain is reflexive and routine driven.
The bottom –up brain has immense storage capacity, it multitasks and scans our surrounding without being told to do so. It is a collector, always on the lookout to gather and store information. The top down brain takes time to deliberate on what is presented by the bottom up brain. Its job is to bring some method to the madness.

Full focus is achieved when both parts of the brain are active. For instance, creative problem solving is a function of harmonious blend of top down and bottom up activity. Think through a problem logically and methodically and then let your mind adrift for a while as you stumble on an impasse. Let your mind wander a bit, break away from the routine and let the unconscious automated bottom up brain to dig out an insightful and creative solution.

The happy marriage between both parts of our brain enables us to realize our full potential and enhance our performance. A collision between both brains is a recipe for disaster as it creates confusion, conflict and chaos in our thought process causing dissonance.

Employee Engagement can be stimulated through motivation, challenge and most importantly by evoking a sense of purpose which will lead to flow, a state of harmony between our creative energies and rational navigators.

An employee dwelling in his comfort zone due to lack of challenge, fear or de-motivation, easily succumbs to distractions and ends up wrestling with focus issues. S/he barely get to enjoy the magical moments of ‘flow’, which act as catapult that hurl you to fly higher & faster.

Office environment can play an instrumental role in employee engagement by promoting a high performance culture which ignites both parts of the brains; challenge , pressure and sense of accomplishment involves top down thinking while motivation & positive reinforcement keeps the door open for bottom up traffic such as creativity and the value of a mind adrift.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Attributed to Albert Einstein