This Human by Melis Senova

🧘🏽‍♀️ Mindful Design and Leadership: Integrating Four Dimensions of Attention

Published 13 days ago • 3 min read

Think of attention... current awareness, in the here and now, to the exclusion of other stimuli. Mostly we can direct our attention, and sometimes it gets hijacked, especially in the buzz buzz, beep beep of modern life.

We can magically move our attention. The more we are aware of where it resides, the more we can master where to direct it. Let’s understand different types of attention in the context of design and leadership.

Sustained Attention
This is our ability to focus on one task for an extended period. It also goes by the names; ‘concentration’ and ‘vigilance’. It comes in handy for learning, completing tasks, socialising, and participating in many other human activities, like designing and leading the creation of impactful products, services, and experiences for others. It is foundational to how we think and behave.

Selective Attention
Remember the last time you had brunch and were perusing the menu? There were items you immediately skipped over and others that drew you in. Smashed avo? Chilli scrambled eggs? Haloumi anything! Lots of choices, but you selected the thing that got your tastebuds humming. This is an example of selective attention. It is the ability to choose what to notice and what to ignore.

For a design and leadership example, consider if you were designing a rural health service. If 'Stimulation' is a core value, you might favour innovative, tech-driven ideas over traditional ones. Be aware of biases built into your attention and balance your focus for comprehensive solutions that align with diverse community needs.

Divided Attention
There’s a reason we don’t have the saying “You have my divided attention”. Firstly, it’s not a great feeling when we’re on the receiving end of someone’s divided attention. Secondly, science and lived experience seem to be at odds. Despite claims of multitasking prowess, science shows our brains struggle with simultaneous tasks, especially when new or complex.

Multitasking stems from the misconception of limitless attention, leading to performance costs. In design and leadership, dividing attention across projects, termed context switching, reduces efficiency. Recognising when our attention is overly divided is crucial for advocating for meaningful and impactful work. What would it mean to slow things down and focus on the important task at hand? Working with complexity requires steady attention.

Mindful Attention
Take a breath. A conscious one. Slow things down for a beat or two.
Congratulations, you’ve just experienced mindful attention. Researchers blend spiritual practice with neuroimaging to understand its effects on the brain, notably enhancing internal regulation and present moment awareness. Typically achieved through breath or body focus, it fosters receptivity without launching into thoughts, analysis and meaning making.

Mindful attention is a superpower in the work of ethical, conscious design and an essential attribute in any inner development work. That’s why next week, we’ll dedicate an entire post to it as we take a deep dive into Mindful Attention.

Bring it ommm!

You've got this,

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This Human by Melis Senova

Helping designers lead.

Enabling senior design professionals to be more influential within their organisations. ✨ Author of this human and design character, published by BIS Publishers.📚

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