Today’s biggest cognitive challenge—especially at work—is managing the sheer volume of information and noise in the environment. No matter how skilled you think you are at multi-tasking, what you’re really asking your brain to do is task switch, and there’s plenty of research that shows the brain just isn’t very good at it.
So how do you get clarity and results when your attention is fragmented?
You have to consciously choose to manage your thinking. And that’s where filters come into play.
Clarity requires metacognition—thinking about your thinking: what you notice, where your mental energy goes, what you overlook. These are your mental filters.
Mental filters take the infinite streams of data that are available to you and separate what you notice from what you tend not to notice. The problem is your filters are not freely chosen. Instead, they're put in place by unconscious forces. They work at a level below your conscious awareness.
Once you realize you have a set of filters in place, however, you can make them conscious. You can shine the light of awareness on them, bring them out in the open, examine them and evaluate them.
At that point you're free to change filters. If your current set of filters is creating more complexity than clarity, then choose new filters. The key is to manage your filters instead of letting them manage you. When you do, they’ll help you:
- Focus attention by pointing at what’s most important for you to notice right now and what you do not need to pay attention to.
- Make meaning by consciously choosing how to interpret the events you notice.
- Move into action based on your interpretations with an understanding of the mental demands required.
The way you habitually think on a daily basis—your default filters—can create blind spots that prevent you, your team and your organization from getting what you want.
You can use the Whole Brain® Model to recognize these default filters without judging yourself (level 1 meta cognition). With this baseline knowledge, you can intentionally put new mental filters in place to shift your mindset, discover your options and take action to get results you want (level 2 meta cognition).
There are many filters, and none of them are “right” for all people at all times. As I’ve worked in the field of Whole Brain® Thinking over the past 30 years, I've sorted through hundreds of options. But I’ve found that the following four filters apply to the challenges most of us are or will be facing. You can remember them by the acronym SAGA:
- Solving—Question your assumptions, shift your mindset and create breakthrough solutions.
- Aligning—Collaborate, leverage disagreement and get to closure even in the midst of conflict.
- Growing—Change at a deeper level when internal motivation or external challenges move you toward significant, long-term learning.
- Adapting—Flex your thinking and change your behavior in response to challenges that don’t require deep learning.
I’ll be exploring this topic more over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, think about this: Which filter can you leverage right now for maximum benefit?