2 things that are increasing lacking in today’s economy

I often muse about what we have and what is lacking. Below are the two things I think in today’s economy, is rare and valuable1. And if we practice to the point where summoning it at will is possible, it can bring tremendous benefits into our lives.

  1. The ability to focus
  2. Being of service to others

(By we I mean ‘me’, by us I mean ‘me’, by ‘our’ I mean ‘me’, and by you I mean ‘me.)

Trait #1 – The ability to focus

This is the buzzword now. The problem with such hackneyed buzzwords is: we don’t really register the meaning of the word into our mind. Like habits 2, where we perform the routine like a zombie without thinking, we are unable to keep focus for prolong period of time because we are living in the age of distraction 3.

Imagine this, you have an important meeting later in the day. You know that you need time to prepare for the meeting, you have done this before, you know what to do. You look at your calendar, you have 30mins of free time, you look at your todo list, 15 tasks vying and begging for you to complete them, what do you do? For many, a logical decision is to time block this 30mins to prepare for the meeting. Sounds good? Ready to go?

But what happens during the 30mins? Let’s look at some probable scenarios

  1. Client calls you on your direct line or mobile
  2. Email notification pops up
  3. Your boss wants to talk
  4. You receive a text message from your ex (really? at 9:43AM on a Thursday??)
  5. Your mind wanders off into something you have been obsessing over
  6. Nobody talks to you, nobody requires your attention, your mind doesn’t wander (and if it wanders, you wonder if you are really that unimportant that no one needs to ‘demand’ your attention)
  7. There’s a fire
  8. Your office crush walks by
  9. Your arch-nemesis walks by too
  10. … and many scenarios up to your imagination

Wow, that’s a lot of potential distractions! Ultimately, having undivided attention on meeting preparation may only total up to 5-10mins (if you responded to distractions).

Don’t let your ego mask the reality by firmly biting on to the notion that you are able to multitask4, you really can’t. Multitasking ultimately is a choice, and not exactly good when you need to be focused.

If we cannot bring our attention to an object, task, or person, the thing that stands to lose, is us.

The point is multitasking just cannot be the strategy to use when you need focus. If you pair a mundane task (clipping your nails) with another moderate task (like listening to a podcast) then perhaps multitasking is fine. However if you are on a high priority task, I really do not think you want to be multitasking. So choose when to multitask if you cannot break out of the habit.

Choose to focus.

Trait #2 – Being of service to others

I muse that because we are living in the social media era 5, unconsciously we feel the need to feed our ego, which results in the ‘me! me! me!’ syndrome, and therefore forget about serving others.

Look at Steven Covey’s model above and link it back to my muse, it seems that we may not the independence stage. We should always seek first to understand, then be understood6.

Don’t we want to help people? Don’t we need help from other people? Don’t we feel good helping people out? How do we survive without asking help from other people? What happens if the help we offered is unsolicited?

I remember this quote from Friends: “There are no selfless good deeds7.” Which argues the good deeds we do in fact makes us feel good about ourselves. Let’s assume that is valid, ain’t it a win-win situation? What’s there to lose?

Why do we ask ourselves what they can offer instead of what we can offer. Why are we so fearful of judgement and feeling vulnerable that we need validation to feel that we are normal? Why do some people have such low levels of empathy8?

Only when we help others, we are able to shred the victim card on ourselves. I think there’s a psychological effect that we tell ourselves when we are able to help others, we are no longer helpless and is able to provide service to others.

The only place we stay is in our minds, our body. Once we learn how to take care of ourselves, emotionally, intellectually, and physically9, we are able to offer help to others. Therefore, the first step to be of service to others is to take care of yourself first. This analogy is perfectly demonstrated in a plane, when it’s Mayday time the oxygen masks will drop and the first step is to put on your own mask before helping others. If we are weak and rapidly becoming useless due to lack of oxygen, yet we still want to help someone else (like our 5 year old son, the love of our life), we might just perish together10.

Closing thoughts

The struggle to direct attention at will is real, and curbing ego to be of service to others is another challenge. Getting good at these two things differentiate us out of the pack. Because it is not something that everyone can do, it makes it really rare and valuable. As the old adage goes: ‘Practice makes perfect.’

Can you summon your focus at will and can you help others out without expecting anything in return?

  1. Cal Newport argues that to have Career Capital, one must seek to acquire rare and valuable skills. (link)
  2. Read Charles Duhigg’s book of habits for more on this. (link)
  3. How to stay focused in the Age of Distractions (infographic) by Hubspot (link)
  4. See Wikipedia on this (link)
  5. See this Quora thread on why social media marketing is dominating our attention (link)
  6. Habit #5 from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by late Steven Covey
  7. Check out this clip from Friends on selfless good deeds (link).(If you feel attacked, your ego is telling me you are not selfish at all. And if you are not selfish, why do you feel attacked? Have you done any good deeds lately? If you have, how do you feel afterwards? Good about yourself?)
  8. Empathy is the ability to share the feelings others is feeling. There is no ‘I’ here. It’s the same as saying ‘put yourself in their shoes’. Read this on why some people lack empathy.
  9. Knowing how to take care of ourselves emotionally, intellectually, and physically takes years of practice.
  10. I know it’s the love here bla bla bla.. Don’t get mad. It’s about the probability of survival, do you want to go with really low odds of survival by helping your children first (decision 100% powered by love and 0% powered by rationality) and risk both dying?

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