How to Turn Down the Background Noise for Better Focus

Choosing what to focus on and what to leave in the background is one of our greatest gifts. And yet, says bestselling author Daniel Goleman, we squander this power by getting lost in a sea of distractions. Why not learn to train it instead?

To watch John Berger, house detective, track

the shoppers wandering the rst oor of a depart- ment store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is to witness attention in action. In a nondescript black suit, white shirt, and red tie, walkie-talkie in hand, John moves perpetually, his focus always riveted on one or another shopper. Call him the eyes of the store.

It’s a daunting challenge. There are more than 50 shoppers on his oor at any one time, drifting from one jewelry counter to the next, perusing the Valen- tino scarves, sorting through the Prada pouches.

As they browse the goods, John browses them. John waltzes among the shoppers. For a few

seconds he stands behind a purse counter, his eyes glued to a prospect, then its to a vantage point by the door, only to glide to a corner where a perch allows him a circumspect look at a potentially sus- picious trio.

What does he scan for? “It’s the way their eyes move or a motion in their body” that tips him to the intention to pilfer, John tells me. Or those shoppers bunched together, or the one furtively glancing around. “I’ve been doing this so long I…

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About the author

Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman, twice a Pulitzer prize nominee, is the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Healing Emotions. Goleman lectures frequently to business audiences, professional groups, and on college campuses. A psychologist who for many years reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times, Dr. Goleman previously was a visiting faculty member at Harvard. Dr. Goleman’s most recent books are Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, and Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings.

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