Goleman (Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence, 2011, etc.) argues that the ability to focus is “a little-noticed and underrated asset” that can help overcome problems like “zoning out” and “mind wandering,” among many others.
The author explains that attention span can be compared with a “mental muscle that we can strengthen by a work out,” with memorization and concentration being the forms of exercise that work the “muscle.” Showing how much time is spent in day-dreaming and mind wandering—up to 40 percent of the day, according to some estimates—Goleman identifies the changes in psychological and mental habits and activities that he believes will contribute to effectively addressing important contemporary issues like climate change and global warming. Quick, default reactions, which focus on the short term and “favor now in decisions of all kinds,” prevent concentration on the long-term objectives that such issues demand. Goleman also believes that such a transformation will require new methods of leadership working through new kinds of institutions. The success of future leaders will depend on their ability to maintain focus on long-term goals and improvements for the widest circles their influence can reach. The author supports his arguments with a psychological framework drawn from the contemporary field of neuroscience. He refers to a Nature magazine study on the ambiguous effects of playing computer games—from “Minesweeper” to poker—and stresses that “face-to-face interactions…pick up a multitude of signals which help us connect well, and wire together the neurons involved.” Unfortunately, “during thousands of hours spent online,” he writes, “the wiring of the social brain gets virtually no exercise.”
A lively personalized account of the science of attention, which “ripples through most everything we seek to accomplish.”