The World is a Classroom – Are You Paying Attention?

Are You Paying Attention?I never used to pay attention in school. I would get good grades, but my head would always be way out in left field. I’d either be doing the homework for my next class or playing a video game on my TI-83 graphing calculator.¬†This was a bad way to learn.

A lot of us are living our lives this way.

People, places, and experiences are flashing by with each waking moment. Thanks to the rise of the smart phone, we’ve stopped paying attention. We are surrounded by and immersed in a world that begs to teach us so much, but our heads are down and we’re simply not listening.

Here are 4 ways in which we can get better at this:

Look Up

Pull your head out of your favorite electronic device and take in the details of your surroundings.

  • Where are you?
  • What’s going on?
  • Who is near you?
  • What are they doing?

It’s painful to walk into a coffee shop and see 19 individuals all sucked into the black hole that is their laptop screen. I’m in a Starbucks right now surrounded by a groundswell of some amazing intellect, creativity, and energy. People in here are making things happen.

None of that energy is being shared with the other people in the room.

Analyze Your Environment

Get intentional about your surroundings. Dig in and see what kind of information is flowing around you. As I write this, I’m sitting across from a couple of young entrepreneurs who are interviewing interns for their new startup.

My two choices here are to dive into my computer screen and block out the world, or to pay attention and learn a little something from the experience. It’s not ok to eavesdrop in a creepy stalker-ish way, but it is a great idea to learn from your environment.

Having taken the 15 minutes to stealthily observe, I now have some very valuable insights into both sides of the interview process for this specific instance. I’ve also got some more fodder for blog content. Another post, another day.

Write Things Down

I was the rebel in high school who never took notes. I seemed to think that I had some sort of super-memory. I managed to get good grades, but that was pure luck. These days, if I want to remember and recall anything, I’ve got to write it down.

Here are my 2 favorite methods for keeping track of my experiences:

  • Moleskine – I keep one of these handy little notebooks with me at all times. I wrote a post on this, my favorite piece of technology, last month so I won’t dive too deep here. I love the instant ability to crack it open and write down whatever is happening in the moment.
  • Evernote – This is where I capitulate to technology again. Evernote is an incredible tool for taking notes on any of your devices and syncing them over the cloud. Added benefit: You can tag notes for easy search-ability. Randy Elrod can teach you everything you need to know about Evernote on his blog.

Review Your Notes

Notes are worthless if you never come back to them. Set a slot of time at the end of each day to sit down, review the day’s notes, and reflect on what you’ve learned. This is the time when you can really process and digest your experience. This one habit will have a huge impact on your ability to learn from your experience.

Good leaders make time to review and reflect on what they’ve experienced.

Great leaders take this a step further.

Apply What You’ve Learned

The very best leaders almost always great storytellers. For virtually ever situation, they’ve got a story or an anecdote queued up that speaks directly to the issue at hand. They’re able to connect with their followers on a deep, personal level through the power of story.

You can be that kind of leader.

When someone approaches you with a problem, be the leader who can share a personal experience or story that will connect with and help them. When approached with a new project or opportunity, be the leader who can pull in real world observation in order to attack the situation intelligently.

Thoughtful observation will teach us more than we need to know in order to be successful leaders. Looking up and paying attention to the world around us is the linchpin in developing our leadership skills. Please take advantage of this free education.

  • Are you one to always have your head buried in your smart phone?
  • Do you feel like you need to spend more time ‘in the moment?’
  • What can you do right now to be more present in your current environment?

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