Focus precedes success in any endeavor. The ability to focus on the task at hand and stay with it to the end is critical to achievement in life, relationships and business. With a never-ending barrage of texts, tweets, beeps, rings and buzzes, it is easy to get distracted by all that is calling for our instant attention. One of my favorite sayings I learned in Japan simply says, “Be Here Now!”
George Washington recognized the power and importance of being present as a young man. In his "Rules for Civility" he wrote, “Read no letter, books, or papers in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave;”
Long before smart phones and Apple watches, Washington understood, and warned of, the need to be present in the presence of others.
I catch myself on far too many occasions not being present for people. Too often someone comes into my office for a conversation only to have me glancing at my computer, looking at my phone and sneaking a peek of the breaking news scrawl from my television — sometimes all at once. This is a failure of epic proportions on my part. It sends an awful message about what is important to me and where my priorities are at the moment. Plus it prevents me from providing my best thinking to the task or issue at hand.
At home and in personal relationships I find myself less present than I should be with the same screens and alerts pulling me hopelessly away from being present to the moment. It causes me to miss meaningful moments and messages while crippling any chance for deeper dialogue and elevating conversations that matter.
In our book “Attitude is Everything” my friend Denis Waitley and I recount the consequences of not applying the “Be here now” principle. In the 1912 World Series, the New York Giants battled the Boston Red Sox in a tough seven-game series. It came down to the final game to determine who would win the series. The score was tied 1-1 with the Red Sox up to bat. One of the Boston players hit a high fly ball into center field. The Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass positioned himself under the ball and prepared to make the routine catch of a simple fly ball. The ball came down into his glove, popped up, then fell to the ground. He blew it! The crowd screamed in disbelief that he could have dropped such an easy ball. The Boston Red Sox scored, won the series and Snodgrass was tortured in the sports pages across the country as the cause for the Giant’s defeat.
Fred Snodgrass went on to play great baseball as a productive player for the eight seasons that followed that World Series failure. Yet, despite his great career, whenever he was introduced to someone that introduction was always followed by the statement, “Yes, yes, you are the guy who dropped the ball and lost the World Series.”
Fred Snodgrass had caught thousands of fly balls over the years, but in that one critical situation, is it possible that he took his eye off the ball and failed to “be here now?” For just a second did he start thinking of the victory celebration? Did he ponder his response to the reporters who would swarm him after the victory? Many a person on the road to success has fallen just short of their goal because they forgot to be here now.
Another challenge to being present in the important moments and conversations of life is what Dr. Larry Dossey, in his book "Space Time and Medicine," calls “Hurry Sickness.” Dossey posits that many of us have become like Pavlov’s dog. The old experiment where a bell rings, and the dog is immediately given a treat. Over time, the dog becomes conditioned that every time the bell rings a treat is forthcoming, so in anticipation the dog salivates. Eventually every time the bell rings the dog salivates, whether a treat comes or not.
Likewise, we humans, especially this human, feel the buzz of our phone, see an email or text pop up and we start hurrying or lose our focus on either the task or conversation at hand. Dossey said, “We have learned to hurry inappropriately. Our sense of urgency is set off not by a real need to act quickly, but through learned queues. Our ‘bells’ have become the watch, the alarm, the morning coffee, and the hundreds of self-inflicted expectations that we build into our daily routine.”2 comments on this story
Perhaps an updated version of Washington’s rules for civility could read, “Read no texts, check no social media, respond to no email or react to no electronic device in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave;”
I am committing to Washington’s rule in order to avoiding becoming a Fred Snodgrass or Pavlov’s dog. Learning to “be here now” will ensure that we don’t drop the ball on important priorities and will transform and enrich the human relationships that make life meaningful.