We’ve all heard of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Cognitive Intelligence (IQ) but what is Attentional Intelligence (AQ) and why is it important today?
What is Attentional Intelligence (AQ)?
Attentional Intelligence is a term coined by Linda Ray, describing our ability to be aware of and in control of where our attention is focused. Our attention is a valuable commodity, especially in today’s distraction-filled world. Running on autopilot could be the reason you aren’t getting the results you want.
Why is Attentional Intelligence important?
As the old saying goes, “Where attention goes, energy flows”. So having Attentional Intelligence and being aware of where our energy is flowing can dramatically affect the results we get.
Our brains are inherently lazy and cannot maintain focused attention all day so it tends to rely on the unconscious to do some of the heavy lifting.
The reticular activating system (RAS) is a group of nerves that sits at our brainstem filtering the millions of bits of information that we receive every second to ensure that we receive the information that is relevant to us. This happens at an unconscious level.
Have you ever been looking at buying a car and when you narrow it down to a particular make and model then you start seeing that car everywhere? This is the RAS in action. It’s not just that there are suddenly more of that particular car on the road.
Taking this into account, it’s easy to see how being intentional with where we focus our attention, can influence our everyday lives for the better.
How can we increase Attentional Intelligence?
Just like building strength in a muscle, we can grow our Attentional Intelligence with practice, to form new neural pathways.
Training our RAS to change what it deems as relevant to us starts with stepping back from a situation and asking ourselves questions such as:
- What am I focusing on right now?
- Am I focusing on what I want or what I don’t want?
- Where have I been putting my attention that created this situation?
- What am I feeling right now?
- Does this thought support the result I want to achieve?
- Is this conversation focused on a positive outcome?
We can’t change what we aren’t aware of, so becoming aware of what we are thinking, feeling and focusing on is the first step to increasing Attentional Intelligence. Continuing to do so and making intentional adjustments to our thoughts will build that attentional muscle until it becomes strong, and a habit is formed. The more you can bring those unconscious habitual thoughts into the conscious, the easier it becomes.
Focused attention can be exhausting for our brains so looking after ourselves with regular hydration, exercise, healthy food, regular meals and allowing ourselves to rest is important to support this growth.
Attentional Intelligence and distractions
With emails, text messages, notifications, phone calls and other people, it’s amazing how we manage to get anything done sometimes!
A study by the University of California, Irvine suggested that it can take up to 23 minutes to regain your focus after an interruption or distraction. When you think about that and how time is money, how much are those distractions really costing you? Is responding to that text message really that important right now?
If you are easily distracted, what measures can you put in place to minimise distractions? Can you set aside certain times to respond to emails or phone calls? Can you put a “do not disturb” sign on your door? Are you more productive at certain times of the day?
By being intentional with where we direct our focused attention, we can be more productive, make better decisions, reduce stress and be in control of our emotional responses. You may even find people start to interrupt you less when you put up boundaries and set expectations.
Running your attention on autopilot will only get you so far. When you intentionally choose where to focus your attention and therefore your energy, you may just find you achieve more than you dreamed. So, what will you do to increase your Attentional Intelligence today and begin to unlock your brain potential?