My favorite annual sporting event is the Indianapolis 500. Everyone in the family knows not to bother me from 12:15 to about 3:30 on the Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day week-end, because I'm glued to the television watching THE race. Yesterday afternoon was an exciting race. There were many lead changes and no one seemed to have the dominant car this year. The last lap had a rookie leading the race—an incredible achievement for a rookie to win the Indy 500. Only eight rookies have won in the hundred years of the race. JR Hildebrand, with a four-second lead, was one turn away from winning the Indianapolis 500 when he skidded high into the wall on the final turn and Dan Wheldon drove past to win. It was Wheldon's second time to win the Indy 500, but the first time he was in the lead in this race.
Now think about this. Hildebrand had already successfully negotiated that turn 199 times in the race. This time he was leading the race. There was no traffic nearby. The checkered flag was moments away and he lost control going into the last turn.
His did not lose a tire. His steering did not break. The car was mechanically sound. He simply did not pay careful enough attention to something he had done nearly 200 times earlier in the afternoon. Maybe he was thinking about the bottle of milk awaiting the winner in Victory Lane. Maybe he was already counting the huge sum of money the winner would take home. But he wasn't paying careful attention and he crashed. I couldn't believe what I saw on the screen! I wanted to cry! I couldn't bear to watch him climb out of the car.
Another sad story to add to my collection about what happens when you do not pay attention. Most of our paying attention mistakes are less public and less costly. Remind yourself at the start of each day: pay attention. According to Winifred Gallagher, in RAPT: Attention and the Focused Life, by simply paying attention to your food and eating it slowly, you can cut 67 calories from each dinner and seven pounds in a year.
Gift cards are a great boon to retailers and restaurants. The reason? People forget about them and don’t use them. We don't pay attention! According to Tower Group, a consulting firm, nearly 5 billion in gift cards will go unused this year. No wonder we see so many advertisements for gift cards.
Don't miss out on life simply because you are not really present when you are present. As I quote in “Be Present When You Are Present,” Ray LeBlond said, “You learn something every day if you pay attention." And, I would add, you won't lose a career auto race!
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. Visit his website, http://sboyd.com, to read other valuable articles on effective speaking and listening.