When I was at university in Toronto, I found out that riding a bike in a city with streetcars presents a very special challenge. I’m riding along and, for the first time, come to a street with tracks; they’re embedded in the road, just a little metal channel… the perfect size to cause big problems for a bike tire.
The irony: After my first crash, I was paying SO much attention to avoiding those tracks that I kept steering right back toward them. Likewise when throwing a ball: You focus on where you want the ball to go. Same when shooting an arrow. Attention creates the pathway, action follows.
What about in life? When it comes to steering the course of our own lives, we probably will benefit from paying close attention to how we pay attention. As Daniel Goleman described in our interview on his book FOCUS, “attention is under more challenge than ever in human history.” So either we get more careful with our focus, or we’ll “crash the bicycle” a lot.
At Six Seconds, we define emotional intelligence: Integrating thoughts and feelings to make optimal decisions. Head + Heart + Hands. Yet many of us become so highly focused on rational data that we ignore emotional data. Others do the opposite. Our brains are most effective when we can integrate the two to get a full, accurate picture.
In our research to create the Brain Brief Profile, we found each of us have a learned tendency to prioritize one of these types of information. We call this “Brain Style.” While our brains might prefer one kind of data or the other (rational/emotional), we can learn to bring both into focus.
Emotional data comes as sensation or intuition. We feel it. We feel emotional data about the environment around us, people, relationships, pets… and we feel it about what’s going on inside us. Emotions are a basic ingredient in the way our brains and bodies work – and they are signals of threat and opportunity. They’re signals to help us pay attention.
Some people are overly focused on emotion. They become entangled in their own or others’ emotions. They seek out emotional intensity, and dwell in a world of feeling. Like a very strong Italian espresso, or a 80% cocoa dark chocolate, the intensity is absorbing, and sometimes overwhelming.
Many of us are on the opposite extreme; we’re so well trained to “focus” and get external tasks completed that we ignore our own and others’ feelings. Rational data has its own beauty and excitement. We can revel in the elegance of a theoretical model, or fixate on completing all the tasks on a list.
Again, just because we have a particular Brain Style, it doesn’t mean we’re required to follow a behavioral mandate. Someone who’s highly rational can become rigorous at noticing and understanding emotions (in a rational way). Someone whose brain loves emotional data can get curious to imagine the rational constructs that people use to make sense of the world.
The first part of the Brain Brief Profile is called FOCUS. It’s incredibly powerful just to notice where we’re placing attention. Am I giving more brain power to seeing…
None of these are either “bad” or “good” as a focal point. Just remember that our brains follow the “use it or lose it” criteria for development: If we’re spending a lot of brain power focused in one area, we get better at that – and worse at the others.
One trick is simply acknowledging that there are multiple kinds of information that we can feed our brains, and to create enough variety to keep ourselves going and growing. Intelligence is the ability to accurately acquire and process these various data. Wisdom is applying that intelligence to create the greatest value.
To use our intelligence and create wisdom, we need to attend with care. Our attention today is shaping our results tomorrow.