The Magic of Conscious Inattention
It is well known in the business world that every meeting has a hidden cost. The number of participants and their hourly wage determine that cost. By limiting the time and number of participants, discussions turn more productive, reducing organizational costs. Jeff Bezos instituted a policy at Amazon that limited the meeting size based on how many people two pizzas could feed. There are simple, easy-to-use apps to calculate meeting costs.
If there was such an app for what it costs us to engage with thousands of thoughts daily, it is unlikely that we would spend time passively ‘scrolling’ through thoughts that may not lead us anywhere, especially the negative variety. Encounters with thoughts, however fleeting, are ‘micro meetings.’ Productive or unproductive, the cost is time we cannot get back.
Let’s say someone accidentally bumps you from behind at the airport as you are trying to balance a cup of coffee and your luggage. The coffee spills on your suitcase and soaks the suit you planned to wear for a meeting the next day. Societal norms may prevent you from physically retaliating, but the mind will continue to curse long after the unfortunate incident.
Like a drop of poison that is potent enough to immobilize an elephant, a brief encounter like this can deplete the mind of its energies, and it may take hours, perhaps days, to recover.
The above is an example of unconscious inattention, where thoughts take over the mind space. One negative thought, one brief surge of anger spawns thousands of thoughts that take us into territory where inner peace cannot coexist.
With conscious inattention, on the other hand, we remain aware of the negative feelings and emotions coming up but make a conscious effort not to give such feelings and emotions our attention. Then the opposite happens; the mind gets energized.
Conscious inattention towards thoughts has a magical effect on them. Those thoughts wither. Suppose they are ‘dominant thoughts’ that chair ‘micro meetings,’ even better. As these ‘dominant thoughts’ disappear, they take many subservient thoughts that help create clouds of experiences around a central theme.
The space vacated by them has the effect of bringing in a sudden surge of relaxation by offsetting the forces of stress and tension pulling at the mind from various directions. The experience of a pocket of silence amid a busy mind may be like retreating to a still lake ringed by scenic mountains.
Like fleeting thoughts, such moments of calm and relaxation may be transitory. As we persist with conscious inattention and create more space in the mind, we begin to experience greater satisfaction and joy. We become more focused and are able to give full attention to productive thoughts aligned with our long-term aspirations. Lessons learned from successful businesses such as using a meeting time calculator or the Bezos’ two-pizza rule need not stop at the mind’s doorstep.