If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment.”
That paragraph opened this way, “Gradually, you become a different person.”
This was the most attention-getting quote from David Brooks’ op-ed piece yesterday. It may have been written for the classes of graduating college seniors. But it is true for leaders and those who want to have big, positive impact. Every day you’re remaking yourself through activity and attention. How’s it going? Who is the person you’re making today?
Brooks is alluding to insights emerging from neuroscience showing that attention and focus shape our neural pathways. We form and maintain the pathways that we need and use. Less well maintained pathways require more cognitive work and energy. The harder the work, the less likely we are to use those pathways under stress.
But it’s in moments of anxiety and fear (that’s what stress feel like, after all) when we might want to be more thoughtful, focus on relationships, be open to new ideas, or draw on the power of reflection. In time, the old neural pathways become disused. Practically speaking, they’re unavailable to us. We’re a little less capable. Or we’re capable of doing what comes easily, even if it is not a good way to address today’s challenges. We are no longer who we were.
To be more capable, we need to foster the thinking that builds more options, not fewer. Paying attention is the first step. Reflecting on the meaning of experience creates opportunities to make small changes to the daily activity that’s making us who we are. How’s it going?