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The War for Your Attention

Are you in charge of your mind?

Key points

  • We live in a time when attention has become our most valuable asset, one for which multiple stakeholders are competing.
  • Attention defines our experience and establishes our mindset.
  • People need to be more in charge of their attention and mindset to survive and thrive in a sustainable world.
  • Mindset-guided attention is the differentiating factor that creates highly motivated teams and individuals.

We live in a time when attention has become our most valuable asset , one for which multiple stakeholders are competing. Political parties, media outlets, companies, and individuals want a share of it, and if they can have it, they want it all. As a result, remaining in charge of our mind has become a daily challenge.

Our attention defines our experience, which sets the mindset of our minds.

As noted psychologist William James said, "My experience is what I agree to attend to." We all know the feeling of allowing our attention to focus on one thing and one thing only, such as the news on Ukraine and Russia these days. What starts as reading the current events for a few seconds can become an obsessive habit of checking for new information every 20 minutes, which defines our thinking. Repeated thought patterns of hopelessness generate anxiety and other negative feelings, which, after a while, turn into a mood, generating the sense that "Something terrible is about to happen to me" or, to take it down one level, "Humanity is hopelessly doomed."

Minutes turn into hours and sleepless nights. A mood can elevate or "ruin" an entire day, a week, or a month. Once a kind of thinking associated with certain feelings becomes a regular mood pattern, it becomes an inner habit that switches on as soon as we have stimuli from social media or other sources.

Source: Shutterstock

Before we know it, the habit constitutes the basis of our inner attitude, or mindset. It becomes part of our identity, and we are "depressed" or "anxious" people.

It's not that we shouldn't feel concerned, have compassion, and take action to help. But losing ourselves in overwhelmingly negative feelings won't help a situation.

On more usual days, we can keep mindlessly swiping up on an app from video to video, ad to ad, news to news to check one more post or tweet before realizing that we have a relationship with our phone instead of the person to whom we are superficially talking. We lose ourselves in the virtual processes of browsing, swiping, and scanning until we forget what we want in the moment and in general.

"Our life is the creation of our mind," said the Buddha. So I tell you that our mind makes itself present through our mindset.

How does science define mindset?

According to Meier & Kropp, "A mindset is a mental attitude. It shapes our actions and our thoughts."[i]

According to our research with Robert B. Dilts[ii], our inner state, beliefs, attitude, and thinking processes make up our mindsets. So then, our mindsets are the primary engines behind our actions.

We have found that there are three distinctly different levels of what we refer to as mindset:

1. The meta mindset level is our big-picture clarity about life. It encompasses our fundamental inner attitude toward the world, the work we do, and how we see our roles and goals.

2. The macro mindset level relates to the inner attitude necessary to put mental disciplines and practices in place. The macro mindset focuses on the big picture and an ecological way of putting our personal and business vision into action.

3. The micro mindset level is a set of beliefs and inner attitudes. It produces the specific actions necessary to build a sustainable path for our venture, project, or team.

Our discovery has led us to create an online tool called Success MindsetMap™ Inventory to visualize them and help leaders work with these mindset patterns.

There is an interesting connection between what we understand about the way attention works and what we found out about mindset.

James Williams, a former Google employee turned digital academic and ethicist, talks[iii] about the threel ayers of attention.

Spotlight is your first layer of awareness. We use it for conducting everyday, immediate actions. It works like a spotlight as it helps to narrow down your focus for something close. We have found that our micro mindset guides our attention, which produces immediate and daily priorities that carry us forward to our outcomes. However, if your spotlight gets distracted or is on autopilot due to a lack of awareness, you might not be able to carry out the actions you want to focus on in the near term.

Williams refers to the second layer as the starlight. Starlight relates to the focus one applies to long-term desires and goals. Starlight works like the stars in the sky. If you feel lost, you can look up, and they help you find your way. In our methodology, we find that the starlight comes from a combination of several activities. These activities include establishing a focus or what we call forming meta goals. Meta goals enable you to prioritize the multiple courses of action available to you. Our macro mindset allows us to keep going even if things get tough.

How can you tell that someone has a strong macro mindset? First, you will likely notice their observable habits that create a sustainable path to their long-term goals. These include practices of recharging, getting high-quality feedback, reframing criticism, and balancing in an ongoing manner.

The third layer of attention Williams calls daylight. Daylight has to do with our sense-making ability, the mental space to create a story of who we are and why we do what we do. Daylight serves as our dashboard, indicating our direction, providing a compelling vision and a sense of purpose and mission. It provides the necessary clarity and visibility of daylight to set our longer-term goals and desires.

Without regular and sustained periods of reflection and deep thought, we scan not see clearly, as we do during the day; instead, our mind is in a constant state of foggy dawn or dusk, in which everything is obscure. To use your daylight attention, you first need to slow down, carve out time and build your "vision board" and dashboard, which we refer to as our meta mindset layer.

Unfortunately, leaders in many organizations are reluctant to do so, frightened of losing time. As a result, they lose their clarity and pay in the form of misalignment, ambiguity, chaos, and, ultimately, delays.

Daylight helps you define who you are, what you want, and where you are going. Your meta mindset needs to become a solid foundation to withstand significant distractions.

Starlight helps you remember all that and develop a set of habits that will allow you to course-correct, place your focus, and generate the energy and information necessary to arrive there.

Finally, awareness of your micro mindset can help you direct or spotlight the right way. Your tendency to identify with helpful behaviors contributes to success in this area.

There are plenty of implications for businesses.

First, organizations need leaders who can guide attention with daylight in terms of clarity of vision, mission, purpose, and longer-term goals. They need leaders who can sustain starlight when the going gets tough and who can create habits of success with their teams. Finally, the spotlight becomes a key daily challenge when teams fight against the multiple distractions coming their way.

In summary, only stable meta, macro, and micro mindsets can drive the three-layers of human attention in the right direction. Our mindset defines our actions, which shape our outcomes.

Mindset matters more than we think.


[i] J. D. Meier and Michael Kropp, Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life

[ii] Robert B. Dilts, Next Generation Entrepreneurs: Live Your Dreams and Create a Better World Through Your Business (Success Factor Modeling Book 1)

[iii] James Williams, Stand Out of Our Light. Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom 2018

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