I am often guilty of being in a conversation and instead of truly focusing on what the other person is saying, I’m formulating in my head what I’m going to say in response. When I do that, I check out of the moment and am not fully present. I am not fully awake to that conversation anymore. What did I miss?
My full attention would have benefited the person to whom I was engaged in conversation. Or maybe the person who missed out was me. Either way, I lose. It’s what happens when we are not fully present…not fully awake to the moment, to the situation at hand.
I was at an outdoor festival recently. It was dusk, and the sun had just set on a beautiful fall Florida evening. A dozen hot-air balloons were tethered to the ground, firing up their gas burners to turn their canopies into giant-sized, colorful light bulbs. The park was lined with vendors and food trucks filling the air with exotic smells to tingle the senses and make you hungry. People were everywhere, walking, talking—the air was electric. Yet in the midst of all this activity, I noticed a young man walking, head down, hands firmly gripping his handheld video game, completely entranced. He was there, he was alive, breathing, even walking. But he was oblivious to what was going on around him.
You’ve seen this scene before. Video games and text messages, as wonderful as they are, can so captivate our attention that we tune out everything else. It’s a technology-induced form of sleepwalking.
There is a time for sleep. As humans, we need it. But outside of the six to eight hours a day we spend doing exactly what our bodies need to recharge, are we guilty of a lesser form of sleepwalking? How can we live our lives being more fully alive, more fully awake to all that is going on around us?
Are there ways you have let the routine of your job, the routine of your marriage, or of life in general cause you to slip into autopilot, to where you are not living fully awake?
You hear soldiers and spies talk about their ability to have a high level of “situational awareness” in any environment be it familiar or new. They have a heightened sense of their surroundings. It’s what keeps them alive. But those of us with less exotic professions would benefit from developing our ability to remain fully awake to what’s going on around us.
As Whoopie Goldberg famously quoted in her movie Sister Act, “If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you gotta wake up and pay attention.”
How can you do this? How can you live more fully alive, more awake, to both the people and the opportunities that are before you? It’s worth the effort. Here are some thoughts to get you started.
Identify when you tune out—Chances are, you don’t live your whole day in “slumber mode.” But ask yourself, “Where do I tend to ‘check out,’ even on an unconscious level?” Maybe it’s during the routine of answering emails. Maybe you tune out when you get home from an exhausting day at work. Perhaps there are meetings or parts of your job or people who make it easier for you to shift into autopilot.
Get a new perspective—Take a different route home from work. Look at a problem or circumstance in a new way. Maybe you have a repetitive aspect of your work. Can you turn it into a game, a challenge, or find a secondary goal beyond just getting through the conversation or the task? For example, see if you can make the person who never smiles actually laugh. Make a point to notice something about which you can share a genuine compliment.
Change your routine—The principle of “muscle memory” is that when you do something over and over in the same manner, the activity becomes routine. For a golf swing, this is a good thing…for a relationship, not so much. Managers are paid to maintain the status quo. Leaders, on the other hand, are paid to find new opportunities, new paths to higher performance. Leaders need to cultivate the opposite of muscle memory. They need to develop the ability to live awake to “see” opportunities and hidden potential where others don’t. But more than just seeing what’s possible, they have to be willing to act on it.
May you live this week more awake than ever before!
“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Awake is written by David W. Welday III