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Blog – Thriving in a world of distractions

By Raheela Rehman

Picture if you will, a day segmented neatly into a productive and effective eight hour work day, followed by leaving on time for your one-to-two hour fulfilling hobby, or perhaps you’ll meet friends or family after work giving them your undivided attention, maybe you’ll be picking up the children from school and run them along to their fun and enhancing after-school activities. The day then smoothly eases into the evening of leisurely unwinding and prepping up for the next day, and your head gently hits your pillow at the end of the evening for an eight hour deep sleep, to start refreshed the next morning.

In a 24 hour switched-on planet, technology driven in our waking and non-waking hours, we will endeavour to get a lot more done with a lot less, striving for professional and personal efficiency. We live in a world where people around the world are connected online resulting in information overload and competing priorities. Boxing off time is a luxury a few of us might be able to afford. Research has shown that the 9 to 5 is fast disappearing, (YouGov, 2018), almost half of people either work flexibly, job share or work compressed hours, to allow them to juggle other commitments (The Conversation).

In Kalai Vanii Jayaseelan’s recent interactive workshop “Boosting Emotional Intelligence: Secret to thriving in a world of distractions and tension”, delegates were introduced to the power of cultivating Emotional Intelligence and why it is crucial to success and wellbeing.

Active listening

Information is being consumed faster than we can process and thus our attention is far more likely to be split. The ability to focus, when presented in a globally connected environment that is complex and ambiguous, is in high demand.

Kalai provided interesting figures when highlighting how much of our minds are generally focussed:

  • a mind can wander 47% of the time in most activities
  • in meetings, the mind is regularly unable to be attentive a staggering 70%
  • the number of people who make time to enhance personal productivity is a surprising 2%

The first exercise opened participants to Active Listening, tuning in and turning on. In pairs, taking it in turns, the conversation flowed in one direction, and the second person attentively listening and observing what the first person “loved about their job”, followed by a two-way conversation.
The active listening, hearing skilfully, ensured the mind is present – often bodies are present, but the mind is elsewhere. By allowing the space and time for someone to speak, suppressing your want to jump into the conversation, allows the listener to follow the speaker’s train of thought without interruption.  Find the right balance, and the speaker may provide more detail, thus we are less likely to miss the data, which we might otherwise be depriving ourselves of.  

Emotional Intelligence

The term Emotional Intelligence (EI) is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.

Kalai’s training programme was developed by Google’s internal course 13 years ago, “Search Inside Yourself”, which became hugely popular internally at Google, and externally. EI skills fall into two categories, INTRApersonal and INTERpersonal, whereby intrapersonal skills are the foundation in knowing personal strengths and limitations. The interpersonal Empathy skills create understanding of others, whilst Social Skills enables trust.

By using this understanding, delegates explored which words we would associate with a “Leader”, some of these included: inspiring, knowledgeable, open, clarity, vision, supporting, enabling, lead by example, not attached to an ego, respect for others, kind, passionate, enthusiastic, holistic and integrity.

Most if not all of these fall under EI, which help a leader to shine. Kalai raised an interesting point, that these skills can be learnt through the brain’s neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to form and reorganise synaptic connections, especially in response to learning, experience or following injury).  Being self aware and managing one’s emotions, an individual can move from an auto-response to an intentionally aware response to a given situation.

Attention and Meta Attention

At times where there maybe multiple items demanding your attention, small mindful exercises can help to settle an individual before taking a decision.

Micro-practise three breaths
First breath – pay attention to that one cycle of breath
Second breath – pay attention to the body, the rise and fall of the shoulders
Third breath – ask yourself what is required right at that moment

It is the third breath, at which introspection is involved, focussing in on the question. Set your priorities for clarity at that moment to clear chaos, use it to move away from autopilot.  This leads onto the two concepts of ATTENTION and META-ATTENTION.

In everyday life, you may notice that you’re not paying full attention to an activity, and you route your focus back. This is what would be referred to as Meta-attention, and this too is a skill which can be cultivated. The breath exercise can bring the focus back, and be practised anywhere in an alert posture.

Practises summary

  • Mindfulness listening
  • Breaths
  • Focus

Find out more about Kalai Vanii Jayaseelan, Director at Sukhaatma at

Register your interest in attending the full SIY program by clicking here:

Recommended reading

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Related article: Blog: Power of letting go of the paddles: Guide to finding Peace, Purpose & Happiness

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