"Leverage Your Five Senses"
by Bauback Yeganeh, Ph.D.

Posted :

Our brains take in information in two distinct ways. One way is through abstract thinking, which includes words, images, and numbers. The other is perception, which occurs through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. The interplay between abstract thinking and perception has resulted in dynamic opportunities for learning which are distinct to the human species. Of course, when it comes to leveraging our brains, there is always room for improvement.

For example, while our hunting and gathering ancestors honed the five senses in order to survive, these days we are far more engaged in abstract thinking than ever before.  Natural moments in which the brain once focused on the five senses, now seem to be filled with work, thinking about accomplishing outcomes, taking in information through social media, juggling priorities, focusing on smart phones, and, you get the point.

Mindfulness has exploded in popularity since I first started playing in the space twenty years ago. Most mindfulness advocates are focused on meditation, which is an extremely powerful tool for the mind. However, there are other ways to be mindful. I've worked with thousands of leaders on managing attention in order to proactively shape thoughts and behaviors.

We know that we spend more time in abstract thought than ever before. We also know that some of this time is well spent while at other times it causes more harm than good (rumination, errors, mistakes, false generalizations, neglecting people around us).

Try monitoring your attention.  What are your thoughts focused on? When is the last time that you looked up from the screen that you are reading this blog from and what were you focusing on instead? 

When we get lost in thoughts, it helps to observe the physical environment. This includes the visual stimuli available to us, the sensation of the chairs we're sitting in, how our posture and breathing feels, and anything else involving perception. Use your five senses as a lever with which to refresh your mind, just like clearing the cache of a laptop when the RAM is slowing down.  This unlocks new behavioral options, especially for those of you who have demanding jobs.

We are part of a far bigger world than what our thoughts are focused on; a fascinating and dynamic world that is waiting for our participation.