Brian asked me this the other day. It’s a good question.
The answer depends in part on the angle from which you’re approaching it. Here are some examples;
- Yoga: Yogis talk about “being present”. The implication is a buddhist-like acceptance of what is.
- Internal Martial Arts: Practitioners talk about “feeling the Chi”. There is a sense of being attuned to everything that’s going on. Their Zen-like accounts can sound like the experience of flow, described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as being “fully immersed and involved” in an activity.
- Organisational Psychology: Recent papers in this field talk about Absorption, Mindfulness and Hypo Egoic States, which focus on “enhanced attention and awareness” and sound in practice like a mixture of Yoga, T’ai Chi, Qigong and meditation.
- Academics: Scientists, especially in the soft sciences, use the term reflexivity in relation to their research and academic papers. The idea is that you “stand outside yourself” in order to be able to critique your own work.
- Therapists: Often use a technique called dissociation. It shares the notion of reflexivity in that it’s about stepping outside yourself in order to gain an external perspective on your issues. It can be done either consciously or, in clinical hypnotherapy, in trance work.
- Management Consultants: Management theory has since the 1980’s recognised “presenteeism”, which is in some ways the opposite of being present.
You’re there, at your desk, working apparently long hours, but in reality you’re not actually doing work at all. You’re probably on Facebook, or getting over a hangover. You’re only sticking around late, or coming in early, to impress the boss and keep your job.
There are other examples too. Sports people talk about being “in the zone”, or in the case of the England football team, the opposite; “not turning up”. And there’s the widely used phrase, in business and elsewhere; “bringing your A game”.
While this is a wonderful diversity of perspectives, it doesn’t provide us with any consensus. Some of them seem to overlap, but they are clearly not the same. So what’s going on?
Most of us accept, and neuroscience confirms, that there is a division between the conscious and unconscious mind. There is also a surprising amount of mental activity that can be done “automatically” by the unconscious, without interference from the conscious mind.
This explains how you can drive for miles down the motorway and, although you haven’t crashed, you don’t remember it.
We tend to think of this division as a fairly clear line. Either we are conscious and aware or we aren’t. But what some of these practices hint at is that it may be possible for some of us to turn that “line” between consciousness and unconsciousness into a “zone”.
The many potential benefits of being able to do this include;
- improved creativity and problem solving
- fuller and better communication, especially listening skills
- conservation of energy, especially when faced with multiple conflicting priorities
- greater sense of achievement and wellbeing; what psychologists don’t like to call “happiness”
It’s a lovely thought, but the sticking point is that most of these practices can take years to learn. And busy entrepreneurs, CEOs and senior managers don’t have that kind of time.
What’s going to help busy people most in this age of anxiety are in-the-moment “tools” they can pick up quickly, use instantly and that become part of their unconscious behaviour, like driving that car on the motorway. And that’s what we’ve been working on.