Do you know the difference between how you pay attention to your downtime and how successful people do?
“Over the last decade, I’ve coached and trained 20,000+ people in 12 countries, and all top CEOs and entrepreneurs have their tricks to maintain consistent high performance.
Many of my clients have started their own companies… but only a few are still entrepreneurs. Of the few entrepreneurs left, a handful is very successful. Most entrepreneurs quit for the same reason: they burn out. They burn out financially, emotionally, physically or intellectually. Entrepreneurship is a very intense experience that puts a lot of strain on the mind and the body. Those who thrive are the entrepreneurs who have learned to accelerate their recovery time and unload the strain of their busy lifestyle.
This article will teach you about a technique called Open Focus that I discovered a year ago when I met with Dr. Fehmi at the Princeton Biofeedback Centre. This method to accelerate recovery was discovered by Dr. Fehmi who has done over 50 years of research in Neurofeedback. He has applied this technique to working with senior executives, Olympic sports team and top performing artists. I have used this technique with my coaching clients [entrepreneurs and executives], and I was amazed to see how effective this technique is. I am thrilled to share this tool with you today” Noam Kostucki.
“When a lioness lies in the savanna, her body is resting, her vision is broad, she scans the horizon for prey. As soon as she sees an antelope, she goes into a narrow objective [external] focus. It captures her complete attention,” Dr. Les Fehmi, founder of the Princeton Biofeedback Institute says. “Her focus becomes narrow and external like a flashlight piercing the dark with a circle of light. Simultaneously, a major physiological change happens––blood rushes to the eyes and the legs’ muscles, and a hormonal shift begins to increase muscle performance and stamina. While the lioness was resting, her brain produced alpha brainwaves (8-12 Hz) that emphasise healing and recovery. As she hunts, her brain produces beta brainwaves (12-16 Hz), changing the body’s priorities to speed, power and quick decision making.”
The same physiological changes happen in humans. When we focus our attention in a narrow and external way, the body shifts, providing us with more physical energy, a sharper mind and the ability to make rapid decisions. This style of attention is good for intense bursts of productivity, leading a group and getting things done. Most entrepreneurs are great at this narrow external attention style, which is why they manage to get so much done.
“When the lioness finishes her hunt,” Dr. Fehmi continues, “to recover from the effort, she goes back into a state of relaxation. In this physiological state, the muscles soften and relax, blood rushes back to the stomach, and another hormonal shift returns the body to rest and healing. This ability to change her attentional style is crucial for her to maintain peak performance. It allows the mind and body to rest in preparation for another intense burst of productivity.”
Most entrepreneurs spend the vast majority of their time unconsciously stuck in this high-intensity mode called “narrow-objective focus” because they know how precious their time is. Get as much done as possible is the entrepreneur’s typical philosophy. This type of attention is good for short bursts of time but cannot be maintained indefinitely without physical and emotional consequences. Staying in a constant state of Beta Brainwaves increases toxins in the body, damage muscles and increases chronic pains.” The new “normal” is synonymous with an intense emergency mode for our body.
If you are a high performer and you have neck or back pains, eyestrain, stomach problems, have problems falling asleep or feel irritable; you are most likely suffering from an overdose of narrow-external focus. You have mastered the art of increasing your body’s high-intensity performance at the cost of your physical and emotional wellbeing. The question is––How to pay attention with intensity and clarity without increased stress and fatigue? Working harder, faster, and longer hours is counter-productive in the long run.
As an entrepreneur, you have constant solicitations for your attention: employees who need management, clients who need answers, finances to track, emails to answer, meetings to attend, and social media to post. We use the expression “to pay attention,” for a reason–– the way you pay attention can have a high price. Did you ever think of HOW you pay attention, as opposed to WHAT you pay attention is the solution to stress and fatigue? Take a moment to think about how you pay attention to everything you do.
Let’s change the way you pay attention
Change the way you pay attention during your down time, and you will accelerate your recovery. The faster you rest and recover, the quicker you can go back to working at peak performance. The following exercise will give you a glimpse of how your daily life can change as you learn to shift the way you pay attention. You can first practice this powerful exercise before you relax, then at your desk. As you master the art of pay attention, you can apply these techniques during meetings, and eventually during any activity.
As you continue to read this page, allow yourself to become aware of the space between you and the screen. As you start paying attention to this space, pause for a few seconds to experience this space you previously ignored. Maintain a part of your attention to experiencing the space between you and the screen while continuing to read.
Without shifting your eyes from the page, gradually open your focus to become aware of the space on the left and on the right of the screen. As you start paying attention to the space on the left and the right of the screen, without shifting your eyes from the text, notice the edge of the screen, the keyboard, and the surrounding environment.
Now allow the visual background to come forward, to become as important as your visual foreground. The attention now includes the space between you and the screen, whole screen, the edges of the screen, the keyboard and everything around the computer to be foreground simultaneously with the words you are reading. As you relax, you may notice that like the lioness this is carried out effortlessly and naturally.
Pause for a few seconds after this sentence to enjoy this attention without moving your eyes from the screen. You may notice that your eyes have started to relax in the process of becoming aware of space between and around you as you broadened your vision.
As you continue to read, include in your attention any sensations in your body. You may feel the eyes relax, the heart beat, blood pumping through the body, itches, heat or cold, tension or other sensations. Allow time for this shift in perception to take place as your visual awareness opens and broadens into three dimensions.
You can include in your attention the sounds around you. As you hear sounds, you may discover that you can hear silence between the sounds. As you hear sounds and the silence between sounds, maintain an awareness of the space between you and your computer, notice you can still read the text and see the background. As you maintain an awareness of the external environment, you may still feel different sensations in your body.
Now bring your attention to include the space in between the lines of this text. Now you become aware of the space between words and then the space in between letters. Your awareness continues to expand effortlessly while your awareness of letters, words and concepts continues.
As you continue to allow your awareness to open and become more inclusive, you may notice subtle alterations in your reading experience. Your comprehension may become more centred, enriched, and engaged. Unrelated thoughts may float effortlessly through your mind. Perhaps your eyes feel less strained as you read. Your hands may feel more relaxed. Breathing may be easier. Muscles in your face or neck may be softer, or your position in the chair is more comfortable. You may feel whole or unified. Sometimes you might feel some uncomfortable physical sensations previously unnoticed in a sustained period of narrow focus. As your body releases its tension, the sensations usually disappear. Take a moment to take in and to enjoy this attention of Open Focus.
Applying what you have learned
If you notice even small changes during the previous reading exercise, you have experienced some of the benefits of Open-Focus. It may be unfamiliar even slightly uncomfortable at first because we are such masters of narrow-objective attention. Many chronic pains have their roots in unrelieved stress and sustained anxiety. The process of dissolving these unpleasant sensations is described in Dr. Fehmi’s book “Dissolving Pain”.
The narrow-objective focus is thought to be necessary attention to resist distractions as you read and do many daily activities. As you experienced in the exercise, you can read a book while in Open-Focus––an alert yet relaxed attention that diffuses tension and stress, allowing for greater comprehension and clarity.
This exercise can be used while doing almost anything, from riding the subway to talking on the phone, cooking or working on the computer. Put a physical post-it on your screen that says “Open-Focus” and every time you see it, repeat the steps of this exercise while you return to working on the task at hand.
Co-authors Noam Kostucki & Kurt Vega