Louis Alloro, M.Ed., MAPP '08, is a cofounder of a 6-month Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology Program, Fellow at the Center for Advancement of Wellbeing at George Mason University, and founder of SOMO Leadership Labs, a community intervention. Web site. Full Bio.
Articles by Louis are here.
I am driven to distraction. It’s just what is and what it’s always been.
“No grass grows under his feet,” my mom used to say of me as a small boy, because I was always moving, always doing. Even now as an adult, I have trouble sitting still. In sitting to write these first paragraphs, I was led to the refrigerator (twice), to check for notifications on Facebook, to email. Ding, ding – a text message on my phone! I wonder who’s on The View today? Sirens out my window; hope all is okay.
This story, albeit mine, gets in the way of my productivity and performance. “I am a Gemini, so it’s okay” I used to tell myself – but this default mechanism of excusing an unwelcomed behavior has self-limiting consequences.
Focus as Weakness or Strength
Conscious of this predisposition, what do I try to tell myself now? That I sometimes love to focus, that I’m good at focusing, that focusing is my friend. I find examples of times where I have focused successfully, to remind myself that I am not my weakness.
I also remind myself that I am not alone. Many people have problems with focusing. According to NIMH, AD/HD, one of the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents, also affects an estimated 4.1 percent of adults, ages 18-44, in a given year.
The Mayo Clinic reports that “children with ADHD also struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships and poor performance in school.”
Let’s not forget that these children inevitably become adults, often with similar struggles. This is why it’s so important we teach strengths- and evidenced-based strategies to help people change the story, change the habit, and change the reality.
Starting Basic – ABCs
As a coach, I like to think of interventions across three dimensions: Feeling (Affective), Doing (Behavioral) and Thinking (Cognitive). These cognitive drills above such as finding where I have been good at focus stem from my experience with the Penn Resiliency Project and Seligman’s work on Explanatory Style. The voices in our head can be tamed, especially if they’re saying “You’re bad at this.”
And the affective. Let’s use this article as an example. My deadline is fast approaching. I know I do not want feelings of anxiety or disappointment. What I do want: feelings of serenity and success, which will contribute to my overall happiness. Knowing how I want to feel means I will have to work intentionally to break old patterns (like a tendency I have to drift attention) that could prevent me from experiencing the good feelings that come from publishing.
Finally, the doing. Changing behavior is key. But in considering how habitual most of our behaviors are, we must always keep in mind the cognitive and affective pieces as we begin to shift behavior. When it comes to change, Prochaska urges us not to jump into action, but to spend time preparing (feeling and thinking).
Here are a few ideas based on Positive Psychology that have worked for me in terms of changing my ability to focus:
* Prime the Environment. This can be as simple as putting post-its on my computer screen that say “commitment” and “focus” or as subtle as setting out a vase of flowers by my computer when it’s time to work. When work time is over, I put the vase in the cupboard, so that my brain can be primed for Facebook and personal email.
* Clear Space. Is your space clean and organized? I know for me, when I spend some time tidying and filing the physical space, I create psychological space too–consciousness in a different dimension.
* Mindset. Are you ready for change?
* Be quiet. It’s so important we take time to quiet our minds. Too much thinking, not enough being. The benefits of meditation have been made clear. Start slowly with three, five, eight minutes of silent breathing.
* Savor. We can be mindful and in the moment through savoring. At your next meal or during your next walk down the street, see if you can activate all senses. This will require you slow down and enjoy the process of eating or walking as not just a means, but an end.
* Broaden & Build. Another way to build the capacity to savor is to set up a positive portfolio: a collection of artifacts (pictures, quotes, souvenirs, etc.) that elicit positive emotion. Spend time in this space every day. For me, an expansive mind and heart allow me to focus on the things that are important.
* Say What You Mean. Pay attention to language. If I say I am Louis, the guy with ADHD, then guess what? . . .
* Do What You Say. Only put on today’s to-do list what you can accomplish today. Don’t let the urgent take the place of what’s important. Block out time to meditate, exercise, and spend time with your positive portfolio just as you would schedule time for business meetings.
* Self-Regulate. Like any muscle, self-regulatory resources require exercising and conditioning to make them stronger. Go on a media diet and allow yourself Facebook, email, or other distractions only during certain (and limited) times.
Or . . . If you need to be allowing yourself more time to spend on Facebook and email, do that too. Super-productivity can have its own consequences. Everything is relative.
Seek Your Correct Balance
Speaking of relativity (see how my mind works?) keep in mind that our attention and time are limited too. With no time or space to see new or different things, we may fail to see patterns (often habitual in nature) that are getting in the way of us being our best selves. There are so many parts of life that make it worth living, a super strong career is just one of them–no career at all is another one. If you work too many hours, see if you can cut down by 1 hour each week until you reach a more healthy load. If you do not work any hours, start by 5 minutes at a time, volunteering even. Remember, baby steps: life is about progress not perfection.
In The Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says, “Virtue lies in the mean between the extreme.” From this Facebook junkie, I can tell you, turning it off to let the grass grow a bit under my feet and in different directions feels good. Maybe you’ll give it a try, whatever that means for you, too?
Author’s Note: If too much or too little distraction are getting in the way of you being your best self, contact me for a free coaching consultation. I am not a life-coach, not a career-coach, not a happiness coach. I’m a coach-coach, always in your corner, helping you find harmony, holding something for you.
Computer/Flowers: creativecommons.com, 1happysnapper