How the Power of Attention Changes Everything: Jeff Klein (Transcript)

Jeff Klein at TEDxGrandRapids

Full transcript of author Jeff Klein’s talk: How the Power of Attention Changes Everything @ TEDxGrandRapids conference.

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Jeff Klein – CEO of Working For Good

Good afternoon. Welcome back. What an awesome day! What an awesome community!

Seven years ago, life was a bit intense for me. I had just become a full-time single dad, no small thing. And I was also deeply immersed in the beginning of what we now call the conscious capitalism movement.

My eight-year-old daughter Merrill Fay and I were living with friends and I was doing my best to juggle it all. One day I was getting ready to run out — run some errands, and I barked, “Merrill Fay, let’s go” and I started moving. And I realized that she wasn’t.

“Merrill Fay, come on, let’s go right now.” And she just stood there like a statue.

“What are you doing? Come on. We’ve got to go now.”

“Dad, if you want me to move, you have to connect with me first.” Swear to God.

Yeah you can imagine how I felt, right.

So I got down on one knee so I could be eye to eye with her. “Oh my gosh, you are so right. I am so sorry. You know, I’m a bit stressed out and overwhelmed. I’ve got so much to do. I really need your support.”

Okay, let’s go. Any way we went.

So as much as Merrill Fay was saying “connect with me, dad”, she was also saying “wake up dad, pay attention.”

And when I shifted from my tension from all that was going up here and moved it to her, we connected and from that connection we could move. It was an instant lesson in the power of connection — the power of attention to foster connection.

This simple and not always easy, mind you, this simple act of paying attention is the key to connection. Connection with ourselves, connection to others, and connections to the possibility of transforming our relationship with the world.

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Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In this space lies our freedom and power to choose our response and in our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Attention is an incredibly powerful force. It allows us to recognize what’s going on and what we do with it. And attention can liberate us from great burdens. An example: nicotine is as addictive as cocaine and heroin, right? And as a consequence, lung cancer kills more people every year than the next three most common forms of cancer combined. Astounding!

I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Judson Brewer who has developed a mindfulness-based program at Yale to help people quit smoking. Dr. Brewer’s program begins by asking smokers to pay exquisite attention to the entire experience of smoking. Notice all of the sensations and when they do this — when they pay really close attention they get past the initial rush and calm and they notice the chemical taste of the cigarette, the burning sensation in their lungs and the foul aftertaste.

As ongoing practice, Dr. Brewer’s program employs a four-step process with the acronym of RAIN. R-A-I-N.

R – recognize the craving. Craving. Craving a cigarette.

Second. A – Accept it, let it be okay. It’s just craving.

Third. I – Investigate. Investigate the sensations in your body related to that craving.

And N -Note moment-to-moment how those sensations change and move.

And this simple process of paying attention has proven to be twice as effective as the American Lung Association’s equivalent program. Between stimulus and response, the power of attention can overcome the greatest of addictions.

Something has our attention in every moment. Take this moment for instance. What has your attention? Hopefully it’s this presentation and what I’m saying but it could be your lunch of the person sitting next to you. Just note you know what has your attention.

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I start every meeting that I facilitate with a check-in round, in which everyone in the meeting in turn addresses the question: what has your attention in this moment? What are you bringing with you? And this simple process of paying attention clears the static in the room and allows everyone to really arrive and be present and connect.

So I’ll use this as a segue into the question of: how paying attention fosters connection between people.

I was lucky that Merrill Fay gave me that wake-up call which I might add at 15 she continues to do. Whether I deserve it or need it or not, but we’re not always so lucky. Many of us make demands on other people and expect them to respond immediately without any consideration for what they might be doing. Anyone ever do that? I don’t do that. Anybody, couple and we do this all the time. We make demands, we expect them to respond and in the workplace, at home and everywhere it leads to disengagement and missed opportunities for connection and collaboration.

So how does paying attention foster connection between people?

Let’s do a little exercise. Imagine for a moment that you’re in a conversation with someone who really loves you, right; just do that imagine, feel them, it could be your parent or your best friend or your spouse, somebody who really loves you. And you’re sharing something with them that you’re passionate about or really concerned about. And they are paying total attention to you. You can feel the love and care coming off of them. How does that feel? It feels good; doesn’t it?

And why does it feel good? Because they’re paying attention to you. You feel connected.

Now let’s change the slate and imagine another scenario. You’re at a cocktail party in a casual conversation with someone you just met. And they are looking around the room to see if there’s anyone they notice, right, checking their cell phone, not really paying attention to you. How does that feel? Not very connected; is it?

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When we give our full attention and when we receive someone’s attention, we feel connected and the opposite is equally true. Paying attention deepens our experience of connection with others.

We humans are clever species. We have essentially created our own world within the natural world. Yet everything we do ripples out and affects the broader world. As John Muir said when we tug at a single thing in nature we find it connected to everything else.

As part of our quest to elevate — continually elevate and enhance the quality of our lives, we humans create 10,000 new molecules a year. That’s 10,000 molecules that show up in thousands of products, yet we rarely test these new molecules for their toxicity. We release them into the world without knowing if or how they cause harm to us or other forms of life and they often do.

Remember Erin Brockovich, anyone? Julia Roberts played later in the movie. Well she uncovered and publicized a highly toxic chemical compound called hexavalent chromium but it continued to be used even after she publicized it.

Around 20 years ago, an entrepreneur named Bob Galanos set out to replace hex chrome in the priming of aircraft before they were painted. So they would put on a primer that had hex chrome and then they would paint the aircraft. Big application, I mean aircrafts are big and there are lots of them right.

So Bob was making great progress when he unexpectedly died. His daughter Laura who at the time was an elementary school teacher, mother of two small children with no business experience and no chemistry experience, decided to take up her father’s torch and pursue this mission.

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