Over the course of the years I have been fortunate enough to write posts for SmartBrief, I have had the opportunity to write about focus and perspective a fair amount. In February, I had the chance to take a vacation to Mexico with family and friends. Being in a much warmer February climate, as well as a different country, led me to think quite a bit about the value of changing focus and perspective from time to time. What follows are four elements of shifting focus that I reflected on while flying back to New York.
Start new traditions
One of the challenges of any current perspective is that it is built on habits and routines that tend to get set and therefore frame our thinking in the present and into the future. When we allow those habits and routines to be all that we see and know, we become even more challenged with viewing the world as others might see it. In effect, we become blinded to anything but our own experience.
This vacation was the second time we traveled with good friends during our February school break. We are already talking about traveling together again next February. Traveling with friends and family members adds different rules and structures into the mix and requires changing the way we would normally do things as a family. Clearly, this is the case for our friends as well.
For instance, even what might be more simplistic family structures (like not chewing gum with braces) can be different from one family to another. As minor as these differences might be, they allow each of us to build new traditions, set new rules and create new routines, which ultimately helps us to shift our focus from the way we might normally do things to the way we choose to do things in the future. And, they being traditions, it guarantees that we will continue to engage in them more than once, helping us to further expand our perspective.
Spending time in a resort in Mexico is very different from spending time without any creature comforts. Of course, even in a resort in another country, the way of life is still different than it is in the US. Take language, for instance. My Spanish is rudimentary at best, and communicating with residents of Mexico and staff in the resort could be challenging depending on what each of the parties in the conversation needed to be said.
That doesn’t mean conversation doesn’t happen, of course, but it does mean we each have to think more carefully about the meaning of our words, inflection, body language, etc. It isn’t that these elements are less important when speaking with those who speak the same native language as we do. It just means that we can automate some of the elements of speaking (though there are significant problems with this as well).
Language, customs, the way of life — all these aspects of the world through another country’s lens made me reflect on the importance of thinking bigger than any individual one of us is. It isn’t always easy to think big (it is so much more likely that our minds want to simply focus on the space in front of and around us), yet it is necessary if we are going to prime ourselves for shifts in focus.
I sometimes need to be reminded that a vacation, as much as it sounds like it should be, isn’t free from stressors. We often allow ourselves to believe that the simple act of going away means we also leave all elements of our normal lives at the door. Of course, the minute we are running for an airplane, or have luggage end up in another country than we are traveling to, or end up eating a meal that disagrees with our body, we are brought back to the realization that it isn’t that stress is absent on vacation. Rather, it changes forms, modifies its approach or alters its audience. Stress doesn’t disappear; it just transforms.
While no one wants to experience stress, it is a fact of life. If we hope to address it through more effective methods, then we have to be willing for it to shift so we can change our way of working through it.
As one example, our family tends to be thorough planners. We like to know what is going to happen and when it is going to happen. Particularly when we travel, we like to be on time, in the right place and with the right people. Our flight returning from Cancun went a bit differently than expected (though happily turned out entirely fine). Not only did we arrive at the airport about an hour later than anticipated (due to severe traffic from road construction), we also found ourselves with no seats on the plane (though it was clear we had tickets).
Planners never like when plans cease to exist, so the stress of not knowing was challenging for us all. Despite that, a switch in stressors is a good reminder that changing our focus is key to being more adaptable short and long term.
Time things differently
While I would agree with the saying, “Timing is everything,” I might add “. . . and so is looking at time flexibly.” While this addition doesn’t have quite the flow of the first part, it is equally as important. Seeing time as more flexible than we do in our normal lives is key to recognizing that the world goes on with or without us. I don’t mean this in a morbid way, but rather that our obsession with time, and being ruled by it, makes it very hard for us to shift focus.
When we allow ourselves to see time as more than each of us being on a simple path, we become better able to recognize that it is how we view, and use, it that makes the difference.
During our vacation we all stayed up much later than we normally would, and most of us woke up significantly later. We welcomed lounging by the pool for hours at a time; falling asleep on a pool chair was just part of the way the day went. There was no rush, as there was also nowhere to really be. Time was just different, though no less important.
While these aren’t the only considerations for shifting focus, they were the four that occurred to me on my travel home from a great vacation. They made me think just a little bit differently about what, why and how I live, learn and lead in the way that I do.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.
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