Remember the “Gorilla Experiment”? Participants are asked to count how many times a group passes a ball back and forth when suddenly someone in a gorilla costume saunters through the scene. At the end, it turns out that a surprising number of observers failed to notice the gorilla due to what’s called inattentional blindness. This phenomenon happens when we’re so focused on one thing that we are unable to notice the unexpected, even when it’s blatant. If we take inattentional blindness and add the ever increasing number of daily distractions we have to deal with, there’s a serious risk of missing something important. Not great news for leaders and decision makers.
But there’s hope! A recent study demonstrated that even just dabbling in mindfulness can help mitigate inattentional blindness. When subjects engaged in a seven minute mindfulness practice before participating in a version of the Gorilla Experiment, they were more likely to notice an anomalous event.
Creating a daily practice whereby we intentionally focus our mind and maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and environment helps us to lead and live with clarity. Meditation is only one path, there are other, simple ways to increase mindfulness in our lives. Here are four easy to access starting points:
Pause: When we stop, take a deep breath and tell ourself what’s happening right then without judgment, we’re being mindful. Cut through the noise with a simple reference to the present moment.
Breathe: Breathing is a consistent part of our lives; take a minute or five and count each breath as it comes or goes. Count up to ten, then start again at one. Expect the attention to wander, notice where it’s gone and focus again on counting. Similar to doing reps at the gym, each time we bring our attention back, we’re getting stronger.
Unitasking: We bring mindful awareness to what we’re doing when we do one thing at a time with our full attention. Need to write a report? Turn off all alerts, close all unnecessary windows and schedule time to just do it.
Use an App: Meditation timers, reminders, quotes, groups, visuals…. There are a number of meditation and mindfulness apps to support any sort of practice.
The evidence is clear, we do best when our attention is focused in the moment. Studies on mindfulness and meditation continue to prove that practicing mindfulness at even the most simple and basic level improves our focus and clarity. The place to start is right where you are, the time is now.