Full text of psychologist Daniel Goleman’s talk titled “Focus – The Secret to High Performance and Fulfilment”
Daniel Goleman – Psychologist
I’m very pleased to be here. And thank you for that introduction. Tonight this evening, I’d like to call your attention to attention.
And let me begin with a story. It’s about a classic experiment in social psychology. It was done many years ago at the Princeton theological seminary with divinity students.
Each student was told that they were going to give a practice sermon. They’d receive a topic to prepare, and then they go to another building and give the sermon to be evaluated. Half of the students were given the parable of the Good Samaritan as their topic. The man who stopped to help the stranger in need by the side of the road, the other half were given random Bible topics.
As each divinity student went over to the other building to give their sermon, they passed a man who was bent over and moaning in pain. The interesting question is, did they stop to help?
The more interesting question is, did it matter if they’re pondering the parable of the Good Samaritan? What do you think?
Didn’t matter. Make no difference at all. What mattered was how much time pressure people felt they’re under, and this is more or less the story of our lives. There’s a spectrum that runs from noticing the other person to tuning into the other person, to empathizing and understanding what’s going on with them. And then if they’re in need, and there’s something that we can do compassion and maybe helping them.
But if we never notice in the first place, we can never go down that road. And this is the problem with attention today. It’s under siege. I think the moment I knew we were in trouble was a while back before I started writing the book ‘Focus’.
I was on my way to a meeting. I was driving. I lived out in the country, in New England. I was late, but I was wanting people there to know I was coming. So as I was driving, I was texting them on my way. That’s rather horrible because it turns out as I read, not very long after that, that texting while driving is the same as drinking while driving. It’s really bad. In fact, in my state, it’s outlawed now.
Another thing I’ve noticed is when I was writing the book, I’d be kind of on a riff really in flow writing well, then I’d have to look something up. So I go to Google Scholar. I love Google scholar because it gives you access to the academic database.
So I opened my web browser and my web browser presents me with the news of the day. And I’m a news junkie. So all of a sudden I started reading news stories. And before I knew it I’ve been lot, you know, 15, 20 minutes has gone by before I realized that, ‘Oh, I was supposed to be looking that up.’
And today we’re all in the same boat. In that tools that we use, our computer or phone and so on are also devised to interrupt us, to seduce us, to draw our attention from this to that. And usually under that is trying to sell us something a pop-up ad or whatever.
But attention is besieged in a way that has never been true before. When I was going around to publishers and telling them I wanted to write about attention. One publisher said to me, “That’s wonderful. We’d love to have that book, but could you keep it short?”
So what happened to us? In 2007 Time Magazine, a major American publication had a small article that said, there’s a new word in the English language. The word is pizzled. It’s a combination of puzzled and pissed off. And it refers to the moment when you’re with someone who takes out their Blackberry and starts talking to someone else and ignoring you.
In 2007, that was unusual. But the word pizzled has died with the Blackberry because now that’s the new social norm. You go out to a dinner, very romantic restaurant. You see a couple together. And they’re both looking at their phones instead of into each other’s eyes.
Something has happened to us. In 1977. Nobel Prize winner, Herbert Simon wrote a very prescient… he said, “Information consumes attention. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
I think we’ve entered a time when we’re in danger of attentional impoverishment. And the signs of it are more than, you know, a couple watching… they’re looking in their phone instead of in each other’s eyes.
The other day, I saw a mom holding a little toddler and the toddler’s trying to get her attention and she’s busy texting. She’s just not available. And you know, of course, dad’s the same story.
I was on a vacation Island last summer, Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of New England. And I was taking a taxi from the ferry to my house. And I happened to share it with seven sorority sisters, college students who were going for a weekend together.