WHEN I’M NOT BUILDING STRATEGIC PLANNING MUSCLE IN INNOVATIVE ENTERPRISES, EXTREME ADVENTURING WITH MY HUSBAND THOMAS, OR ENGAGING KIWIS IN POLITICAL SOLUTION-FINDING, I TEACH TEAMS AND INDIVIDUALS TO FUNCTION AT A HYPER-AWARE LEVEL THROUGH #ACUITYHACKS.
Discernment is one of the cornerstones of acuity. But the #acuityhacks definition of discernment has nothing to do with how cultured your wine palate is or how tastefully you put your clothes together.
It’s your ability to distinguish between one thing and another. The faculties that enable you to cut through everyday clutter and hubbub, narrow your focus, and act – or react – in ways that serve your best interests.
Discernment seems ridiculously basic if we think about distinctions between opposites, such as soft and hard. It's when distinctions are far subtler that discernment becomes valuable. What’s the difference between confidence and arrogance? Being generous or making oneself a martyr, or being efficient or hasty? What’s the difference between irreverence and offensiveness?
If we’re not interested in making better decisions, continuing to learn, or living our life by our own design, none of this matters.
We can spend our lives looking at the path, putting one foot in front of the other, and never knowing what’s out there on our horizons. Literally millions of people make the choice to do some version of that, and neither you nor I, nor anyone else, have the right or authority to judge them. (Which of course doesn’t stop us. But that’s a conversation for another time.)
But you’re here, reading a post that’s solely focused on improving the human capacity for clarity and insight. So you must want more out of life than that.
Acuity hack No. 4: train your attention.
At one end of the acuity spectrum is Sherlock Holmesian attention, where not even the minutest detail escapes attention.
But even Sherlock might struggle to focus today in the mess of stimulation that is modern-day reality. So there are a couple of steps you can take to improve your discernment.
First, make room.
There’s no such thing as “free attention” – it has to come from somewhere. So free as much of it as you can from the sticky stuff: non-stop notifications on your phone, endless ups-and-downs of reality TV, all-hours emails from work…
And second, recognize that everything you’re experiencing right now – literally everything – is new.
That response from your partner – or boss, or kid, or Dad – that you know is coming, and that you’re pretty sure you could pre-repeat word-for-word: it hasn’t happened yet, and it’s just possible that some word or tone will distinguish it from past responses.
Still, it may well be word-for-word, because your partner is operating in the same mess of distractions as you are, and probably hasn’t read this #acuityhack. (Seriously, that too is a useful factor to discern.)
Observing with discernment is a skill. Every skill can be learned (provided that the motivation, and the learning opportunities both exist at the same time), and every skill improves with practice.
So start now. Look up from the path. What bigger, more interesting things do you see?