How to be better at anything you do

Deep down you know that things could be better. That promotion keeps slipping through your fingers, or a relationship’s feeling stale. You’re doing your part — what more is there?

Here’s an idea so simple that we often overlook it: Pay attention to how you’re paying attention. Because it’s when we think we know what’s going on that we’re likely to overlook things.

Consciously paying attention means we:

1. Make smart choices about where we focus our attention.
2. Recognize what we may not be able to give much attention to.
3. Keep adjusting as needed.

When we do all three, we remember the big picture and act accordingly. We notice more. We become more considerate. People are more responsive to us. We’re less frustrated, more engaged, and less likely to be caught off guard. Doing better gets easier.

To check your state of attention, use our 5 Ws (and 1 H) to see what really is — and isn’t — on your mind.

WHO do you think you are?
You play different roles in different areas of your life. Imagine how people in those areas might describe you. Does it align with how you see yourself? If there’s room for misunderstanding, take steps to communicate better and fill in those gaps.

WHAT are your assumptions?
The truth can change overnight, so it helps to test your beliefs from time to time: Are you taking what you do or how you do it for granted? Is there a better way? Seeing things from different angles will generate new insights and ideas.

WHERE is your focus?
Is it scattered and fuzzy? Highly concentrated to the point of tunnel vision? Are you doubling down on what is comfortable instead of what’s pressing or unfamiliar?

WHEN do you get involved? 
Sometimes minding our own business is a way of politely putting blinders on. Try stretching your attention beyond the usual to see what else is going on. Could you participate more fully or share more information?

WHY are you doing what you’re doing?
When we get comfortable, it’s easy to forget our motivation. On occasion, ask yourself: Why did I choose to do this in the first place? What makes it worthwhile? Has anything changed?

HOW do you connect?
There are lots of systems that make up our lives: social networks, daily routines, workplace dynamics. How do you navigate and connect within yours? Where do you see yourself in these contexts? What could change?

More ways to look at your life differently:
Whose life is this, anyway?
Office politics for people who hate politics

Originally published at on February 24, 2016.

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