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April 20, 2014

How to retain mental and creative focus


Have you ever wondered why, when you leave a two-hour meeting you usually have very little retention of what was said? An onslaught of stimuli and information comes our way every day. Why do our minds label some of it as important, and the rest becomes no more memorable than this morning’s Starbucks experience?

Lack of focus is not due to too much TV as a child, it’s a function of our Reticular Activating System (also called the extrathalamic control modulatory system, but let’s just call it the RAS). The RAS is a structure embedded deep within the brain, that helps with two main business functions: 1) highlighting information as relevant while it is being experienced, and 2) stimulating pattern recognition that can be used as innovative fuel.

What if you had a tool that could improve information retention in the moment, and mind training for the future? By simply asking the right questions at the right cadence, you plant seeds of thought in the minds of your employees and create thought patterns that drive your business forward.

Too much input

Awareness must be regulated during our waking lives, since our minds have a finite amount of resources and simply cannot process all of the external stimuli that we experience each day. 

The metaphor ‘asleep at the wheel’, is not far from the truth. Our brains are actively ignoring information that isn’t deemed vital.

When we zone out in meetings, the RAS is acting like a switch to protect us from being overstimulated by a massive amount of information in a short period of time. When it is turned off, we “zone out”. When the RAS is on, we have increased awareness and retention of vital information.

Meetings are a turn-off

In meetings, the person in control of the conversation is often a leader who is forwarding a well thought-out agenda. But for the employee who is listening to the information, it may be perceived as uninteresting or even threatening.

When we are uninterested, the RAS is not activated  and what we hear just becomes noise. And when we feel threatened by something because we don’t understand it or it seems overly burdensome, many of us shut down.

Bolt, the fastest pigeon in the world was sold for £300,000 last year to a Chinese millionaire. Belgian pigeon fancier Leo Heremans also sold the rest of his aviary collection at auction for over $5 million. Did that seem random to you? It was my intentional strategy to activate your RAS.

I recommend starting meetings with information that people are not expecting, as it gets them to pay attention. This technique brings them fully into the room and makes them present.

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