If you’ve ever heard the phrase “continuous partial attention,” it was coined by Linda Stone, a former senior exec at Apple and Microsoft. Stone now focuses much of her time on thinking about focus, attention, and “conscious computing” — the notion of getting back into our physical bodies while using technology.
The Atlantic has a great interview with Stone in their June issue, where she talks about the benefits of truly be present in the moment, rather than lost in what’s happening on our phones. Here’s Stone:
When we learn how to play a sport or an instrument; how to dance or sing; or even how to fly a plane, we learn how to breathe and how to sit or stand in a way that supports a state of relaxed presence. My hunch is that when you’re flying, you’re aware of everything around you, and yet you’re also relaxed. When you’re water-skiing, you’re paying attention, and if you’re too tense, you’ll fall. All of these activities help us cultivate our capacity for relaxed presence.
In this state of relaxed presence, our minds and bodies are in the same place at the same time and we have a more open relationship with the world around us.
Another bonus comes with this state of relaxed presence. It’s where we rendezvous with luck. A U.K. psychologist ran experiments in which he divided self-described lucky and unlucky people into different groups and had each group execute the same task. In one experiment, subjects were told to go to a café, order coffee, return and report on their experience.
The self-described lucky person found money on the ground on the way into the café, had a pleasant conversation with the person they sat next to at the counter, and left with a connection and potential business deal. The self-described unlucky person missed the money – it was left in the same place for all experimental subjects to find, ordered coffee, didn’t speak to a soul, and left the café. One of these subjects was focused in a more stressed way on the task at hand. The other was in a state of relaxed presence, executing the assignment.
We all have a capacity for relaxed presence, empathy, and luck. We stress about being distracted, needing to focus, and needing to disconnect. What if, instead, we cultivated our capacity for relaxed presence and actually, really connected, to each moment and to each other?