“I’m having a hard time focusing and that’s not like me,” my client said. After successfully navigating a protracted challenging business environment, he couldn’t understand why his productivity had declined. As we explored the underlying factors, it became apparent that he was stuck in a cognitive tunnel.
In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg explains that “cognitive tunneling can cause people to become overly focused on whatever is directly in front of their eyes or become preoccupied with immediate tasks…Once in a cognitive tunnel, we lose our ability to direct our focus. Instead, we latch on to the easiest and most obvious stimulus, often at the cost of common sense.” This is why my client was distracted by cleaning out his inbox and responding to yet another text message.
Between back-to-back meetings and juggling multiple priorities, it’s easy to fall into reactive mode. To break out of that cognitive tunnel, Duhigg suggests the following approach:
- Second guess the story you’re telling yourself – consider what you could have done differently
- Encourage others to second guess you – ask someone to help you think about other options
- Leverage the feeling of control – empower yourself to make better decisions
When my client imagined the clarity and improved productivity he could have at the end of his cognitive tunnel, he was able to take the first step in that direction. What do you see at the end of your tunnel?