How long do we remember the taste of a swallowed bite?

Why is it important for managers to learn how to control and balance attention? – Mindfulness and the middle path in management

It is said that the only thing that a person can control with 100% is one‘s attention. Of course, we may not ignore the environment and contemplate on our own thoughts and feelings all the time. Very long time ago a quick reaction to a danger – an enemy, a lion, elements of nature or contrarily to food or sex, helped the humanity to survive.

Every day I strive to notice how my attention is usurped involuntarily by a commercial, a person, an event, a spectacle… and I ask myself “Why?”. The majority of unconscious reactions are related to the instincts of the prehistoric man. For instance, when I am on my way to Vilnius, on a freeway, I often admire the hill on top of which Rykantai church stands. Once I noticed that my glance unconsciously went to one spot. Danger! – was my unconscious reaction. It turned out that a tail light of a car getting in an accident glimmered in the sun and instantly caught my attention.

Why was my reaction instinctive? In the old days, this could have meant danger – a shimmering light of armor, weapons… It was logical that subconscious, which keeps experience of many generations, is trying to warn us about pending danger and save our lives. Making sure that the danger is not real (and in our age, it is mostly the case), we can aim our attention where we choose.

Unfortunately, the attention has a tendency to “stick”. Because of inborn character or mind exercises, some people control their attention. However, external objects, like fashionable things, cars, ideas, control the attention of most people… Unconscious reactions to danger or desire (not necessarily sexual) and the “stickiness of attention” is well played upon by neuromarketing or PR communication.

How can mindfulness aid a manager?
First. Even when a manager knows his/her priorities, extents of competence and goals, still part of the employees, clients or friends seek to steal the attention and time of the manager for solving meaningless problems. If a manager does not have a habit of controlling his/her attention, sooner or later, strategic, priority problems are pushed aside.

Second. Throughout the recent centuries an outward worldview formed, i.e., we give almost all our attention to external things. I will give some examples.

Our glance wonders in search of a “tastier bite”.

Suddenly, we see an advertisement of a “Super Burger”, we start so salivate and we get an urge to buy it.

Exactly at this point we should turn inwards and ask ourselves “Am I full?”. It is most probably that we would feel our body’s answer – Yes! And the wish to eat it would disappear. And the coke, and the French fries…

Let‘s see what happens next. Just as we have finished the last bite of the burger, we forgot the food. Of course, given that the burger or any other meal was fresh.

If not, it will make us remember it.

Similar things happen in management.

The attention of most managers is pointed outwards:

  • Search for new clients;
  • Search for new markets;
  • Search for new technologies;
  • Search for new employees, etc.

However, the attention is not made of rubber and it cannot expand endlessly. If a manager gives all his attention to external things, there is none left for the internal things:

  • Service for existing clients;
  • Expanding the market;
  • Employee motivation;
  • Organizing and optimizing inner processes, etc.

How does it work in practice?
We spend a lot of effort to find and choose a promising employee. Yet, we “forget” about him even before he gets “cozy and warm”. His expectations, initiative, career prospects in the company, etc.

Of course, if he is not a „rotten sandwich“, that reminds about itself not in the nicest manner.

We indulge new clients and we tend to forget the old ones.

We promise the new ones piles of gold – discounts, rewards, entertainment; while we expect loyalty from the old ones and hope that they will not notice promotions and will buy with higher prices as they always have. We give flowers to our “Mistress” and we forget to get some for the “Wife”.

What ratio is the most optimal?

In my opinion – 50/50. 50% for the outside, 50% for the inside.

2500 years ago, Buddha Shakyamuni concluded – the middle path is the optimal one.

Of course, when reacting to a crisis or an opportunity, the manager may divide the attention accordingly.