Last weekend I went bowling for the first time in ages. I came away amazed at how the sport has kept pace with the times. And I don’t necessarily mean that in an all good way.
This wasn’t your average bowling alley with 40 or 50 lanes and the sound of falling pins dominating the action. This upscale, boutique bowling alley had only 10 lanes, and was definitely targeted to a younger generation with short attention spans. No cheap plastic seats, greasy snack-bar hamburgers, or endless rows of beat-up black bowling balls to choose from.
Instead, we had sleek designer benches to sit on and shiny new bowling balls with colorful, swirling patterns. For food, we could choose from a full menu of restaurant items that were delivered to our seats by a smiling waitress. But what really struck me (literally) was the incessant, and very high, level of visual and auditory stimulation.
At the end of every lane, directly above the pins, sat a large, high-definition TV screen, each one tuned to a different sports channel. Indy car racing, baseball, soccer, tennis – you name it and you could watch it. In fact, as you lined up to roll your ball, it was hard not to watch it, or at least not get distracted by it.
Music blasted nonstop from ceiling speakers, so loud that you almost had to shout to talk to the person sitting next to you. And the smell of our buffalo wings, chips and salsa, and calamari (not your typical bowling alley fare!) tantalized our nostrils.
We only bowled one game, which took about an hour because of our large group. But by the end of the hour, I couldn’t wait to get out the door. My young nieces and nephews enjoyed every minute of it. I, on the other hand, felt like all my nerve endings needed a break!
Call me an old fogey, but the fact is we live in a very over-stimulated world. The real issue is not so much that we’re constantly in sensory overload. It’s that we’ve become desensitized to most of the stimuli bombarding our senses. This automatic tuning out of sensory input enables us to cope in today’s information overloaded world. But it does not serve us well at work.
Why? Because the screening out of stimuli (i.e. information) does not take place deliberately or purposefully. It most often happens just below the level of consciousness, so we don’t even notice it. And because our brain tends to see what it wants to see, we typically screen out anything that doesn’t align with the view of the world we already hold.
In business, this means that we tend to screen out anything that contradicts our prevailing views about our business and our customers. So we miss data that says our customers are moving a different direction. We overlook obvious trends and demographics impacting our business. We don’t see the competitor that comes out of nowhere to introduce disruptive innovation to our industry. And we fail to capitalize on opportunities to leapfrog ahead of our competition.
Over-stimulation also disrupts our ability to focus. Instead of zeroing in on our highest-priority activities, we spread our attention over too many tasks that may or may not support helping the organization win. I don’t see the world slowing down anytime soon, so we need to get in the habit of slowing ourselves down on a regular basis.
Throughout the day, pause from time to time to put the brain in idle. Nothing lengthy – just a few moments to quiet your thoughts and let all the “noise” around you dissipate.
To really slow down, set aside 10 to 15 minutes a day to meditate. Walk barefoot in the grass. On the drive home from work, turn off the radio and let the mind wander (but not so much that you forget about driving!). Find an idyllic spot to just sit and watch a sunset. Or just sit quietly and breathe deeply.
Our brain tells us we don’t have time for such nonsense. In reality, it only takes a few moments to disconnect from the sensory overload. The trick is to build those moments into our daily routines, so that pausing to mentally decompress becomes a welcome habit rather than a bothersome chore. You’ll be amazed at how even a few moments a day can refresh and recharge your brain.
I don’t plan on going bowling again any time soon. If I do, I’ll be sure to bring along some earplugs!
Call to action: Step away from your PC, cell phone or Blackberry, and take two minutes to mentally decompress. Do it now!