Our CEO was leading a Zoom meeting the other day, the beginning of a series of meetings on a topic of great importance, but not urgency. Conceivably, this series of meetings could put our agency on a very strong course over a multi-year span; no one would deny its importance. Yet, many of us were not completely present.
So, what was this important meeting competing with in the minds of the 15 people on the call? The tyranny of the urgent of course. Or what feels like urgency at least. Each of us had issues that needed to be addressed that day with immediate consequences. In a face-off between immediate concerns and longer-term planning, immediacy often wins.
She did what a good facilitator would do and explicitly called for our attention. No more surreptitiously checking emails or turning off the camera to multi-task. She had a simple request. Give this discussion your attention.
The request seemed simple enough, but half of my mind continued to linger on the issues of the moment, and the other half tried very hard to focus on the discussion. Neither really receiving the power of my attention.
Attention is power. It can bring us wellbeing and effectiveness. Left to its own devices, our attention can often flit about, at the mercy of our brain’s draw to stimuli (how many minutes has it been since you checked email/text/social media?).
Since this meeting, I’ve thought a lot about the power of my attention. I know that giving my attention to political strife right before bed can lead to some very tired days. And, on the flip side, removing my attention from all current events makes me feel like a passive participant in the world’s status quo which is decidedly not acceptable.
I know that as a manager, giving my full attention to my staff — listening with the expectation that my perspective will be changed — leads to effective communication.
I know that we each want to be seen and appreciated and that doing that for our workforce is the single most powerful form of engagement.
And, as a long-time professional in children’s mental health I know that being conscious, being aware, and giving attention, is the place that our best parenting comes from.
We can all be more conscious of the power of our attention. Squandering it is like the Superhero who has the power of flight and only uses it to get a Slurpee from the nearby 7/11.
I’m resolving to give more respect to the power of my attention and to be deliberate about where I give it. Starting meetings with some way of connecting as humans first before we plunge into work; having political discussions with people who don’t agree with me and really listening for their perspective before I respond; carving out time for taking in what is happening in the world and also time to play silly games on my phone; taking deliberate action around the issues that I care about and spending time with my loved ones doing nothing at all. I resolve to give my attention the respect it deserves.
And if I could fly I would at least use it to go visit the ocean. Although if I’m honest maybe I would stop and get a Slurpee on the way.
This blog article was contributed by Margaret Vimont, Vice President of Strategy and Service Development for Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.