For centuries, native practitioners of the Polynesian art, ‘wayfinding,’ traveled from island to island by honing their attention on the world around them. From canoes, they gathered information from the swell of the tides, the direction and temperature of the wind, the flight of birds, and the stars in the sky. They masterfully attended to the rich, yet subtle clues in their environment to navigate unchartered territory.
These wayfinding practices, many which have been lost due to modern technology, serve as a valuable metaphor for how focused attention can help us travel through unknown stages in our lives. When moving through a major life transition, we often feel unmoored and rudderless, unsure of where to go and how to make the critical decisions needed to create our next life chapter.
The wayfinders were masters at using their deep level attention to gather data for informed decision making. Today, there’s a huge push for collecting big data to manage societal decisions ranging from pricing to production to policy. However, we often neglect gathering personal data from our internal systems to inform our intuition and cognitive decision-making abilities. In fact, a new company, Node, believes it has created artificial intuition, and is selling technology that claims to capture the ‘human sensation of having a hunch.” According to an article in Fortune magazine, the technology will be used to help managers make business decisions.
While it sounds fascinating, it’s hard not to wonder what the costs will be for outsourcing intuition to technology.
Instead, what if we strive to model the strategies of the wayfinders by bringing focused attention to our lives and transition decisions? What if we engage deep-level attention to help us chart what intrigues, puzzles, excites, drains and conflicts us? What if we access our intuitive resources to help us navigate the journey to our next life chapter?
Engaging in deep focus and reflection isn’t always easy. It requires energy and commitment. In a study by the National Institute of Health, researchers scanned the brains of over 50 executives as they engaged in deep-level exploratory thinking. This deep-level thinking activated the participants’ executive centers in the brain – the region responsible for controlling attention and one that requires intentional focus. When participants engaged in surface-oriented thinking, the brain region that processes anticipation and reward was activated. This region is known as the pleasure pathway or reward center and explains why we often prefer answering easy emails over writing that complicated report. The science confirms that thinking deeply involves effort and focused attention. However, attuning ourselves in this manner brings a wealth of information regarding our physiological responses, energy, moods, curiosities, and inner knowledge. It fuels an awareness that serves as an internal compass, calibrated to our unique make-up that can guide us through transition.
Taking time to focus our attention has additional benefits. Once we commit to thinking about something, our brain goes on high alert and notices things we might have missed beforehand. Have you ever experienced thinking about something, for example having a child or buying a certain type of car, and suddenly you see pregnant women or the model of car you’re considering at every corner? Working with focused attention can be like this when navigating a life transition. If you place your attention to specific questions, you’ll begin observing insights and answers you may have overlooked before.
Once you focus your attention on gathering personal and internal data about your transition, you’re positioned well to make decisions and mindfully set intentions for your next chapter. These intentions then guide your reinvention process. Who do you intend to become? What do you intend to do? How do you envision going about this? Intentions become your transition roadmap.
Armed with intentions informed by focused attention, you’re then ready to begin the work of manifestation. The overuse of the word manifest in today’s lexicon is troubling. It’s common to hear people say, “I’m going to manifest this or that,” as if it’s as easy as waving a wand. Manifestation – the act of bringing something into focus – requires diligence, work and follow through. It’s the creative process of bringing something into being that wasn’t apparent before and involves laser-like focus, clarity of intention, deliberate action, and committed answers to the following questions: With whom do you surround yourself? How do you sustain your energy? What commitments are you willing to make?
At Cultivage we encourage you think like a wayfarer. Put your oars in the water and focus your attention to glean insights from the world outside and inside you as you navigate your professional or personal transition.