I wrote 700 words of this week’s Learning Letter before officially scrapping it and starting over.
You see, I’ve been a bit distracted.
On the personal side of things, I’ve been dealing with an issue with our mortgage lender. They messed up and I’m the one spending hours on the phone trying to sort things out between them, our title company, and the City of Baltimore.
On the professional side, I’m still trying to get into a solid writing flow, but the new puppy we adopted in January reaaaally likes attention, like Stop-typing-and-scratch-my-belly-now kind of attention.
As you can see, I’m quick to designate the sources of my distractions, I haven’t been achieving X because of Y. Simple.
Or is it?
As I wrote out the first draft of this week’s Letter, it suddenly occurred to me: I can’t be the only one who feels constantly distracted? Maybe there’s a deeper reason…
Think about the CEOs who manage massive companies or work from home parents who are endlessly juggling responsibilities.
There are people who know nothing but distractions and yet still find a way to stay productive.
So it got me thinking, instead of fretting over my excuses, why not turn this into a learning opportunity?
Which is exactly why I re-wrote this Letter.
Let’s get learning, shall we?
(Oh, how do you like the new redesign?)
You know that thing you do when you’re driving in your car and your mind starts to wander about the most random things—the laundry you need to put away, the weird conversation you had at the grocery store, the fact that we only see one side of the moon—yeah, that’s called stimulus-independent thought, or mind wandering.
It’s actually how our brains are hardwired, our default mode is to jump around thinking about one random thing after the next.
The hard part comes when we sit down and force our brains to think about just one thing, better know as focusing.
Now, asking Google “how do I stay focused” yields millions of articles all claiming to have the right answer.
For example, the top article in the search lays out 10 things you can do:
- Get rid of distractions
- Coffee in small doses
- Practice the Pomodoro technique
- Put a lock on social media
- Fuel your body
- Get enough sleep
- Set a SMART goal
- Be more mindful
- Make a to-do list
- Focus on similar tasks
On the outside, all these suggestions make sense. I’ve even tried all of them at various times in my life.
But none have ever offered the cure-all solution to mind wandering.
It happens. It’s always going to happen.
So there’s on’y one thing we can do.
Think about your next best move
My 5-year-old son (the one who finished reading the first Harry Potter book, as I keep bragging to my friends) is learning how to play chess.
He loves the game except he has a bit of a frustration problem.
If I make a move that messes up his checkmate plan he immediately asks if he can resign. I tell him no, he has to see it through.
His toughest opponent is himself.
For most of us, we spend our days wondering about what if this happened instead or why do I have to deal with this or can’t I just give up and hope it all goes away?
Life hits us in the face and whether it is fair or not, we have to deal with it.
Back to my son. Anytime his frustration boils up I tell him, “Henry, the only move you can make is your next best move.”
It’s easy, as a parent, to dole out life advice disguised as board game advice. It’s harder to listen to your own advice when it applies to real life.
When I first received notice of the mortgage lender problem I was confused, frustrated, and furious.
Why should I have to deal with this issue when it was clearly someone else’s fault?
Focus on your next best move.
I could either kick and scream and accomplish nothing, or I could be an adult and deal with the issue and move on.
When we find ourselves distracted or frustrated by the going-ons around us, sure the tidy list of 10 improve-your-focus things sounds nice, but it all boils down to one thing:
What are you going to do right now?
So, what are you going to do?
We’ve finally arrived to the point of this week’s Learning Letter.
What are you going to do the next time you’re distracted?
Are you going to list off all the excuses why you can’t seem to get anything done?
Are you going to keep procrastinating?
Are you going to whine about it?
Or are you going to take a beat, breathe, and ask yourself a very important question: What’s my next best move here?
Our lives fluctuate between action and distraction. It’s up to us to decide what comes next.
Recommended Reading: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Until next week,