How distractions limit success, effect mental health, and strategies to be calmer and more productive in a healthy way
Its 6:30 am and I’m beginning my daily fight with my alarm clock. It’s not that I haven’t rested enough. It is mostly the struggle to gather the ever fleeting thoughts in my mind into focus so that I can put one foot before the other and start my day. I’m assuming I’m not the only person out there who struggles at times to get their brain to wake up and do the things they need to get daily tasks done. As soon as we wake up in the morning to the time we go to sleep, we have our phones in our hand and the pressure of a thousand tasks we need to complete. We live in a productivity driven world. If we aren’t careful and take purposeful steps to give our brains a break, mental health will decline. Constant overstimulation and pressure to be successful can cause some people to feel anxiety, develop OCD due to the demand for control but lack of it, and failure or feelings of inadequacy can lead to depression. These are just a few possible results someone could experience. Everyone has varying capacities to handle stressors.
Our lives are so filled with distractions, to sit still and complete one task can be so overwhelming. When I was still in college it would take me about fifteen to twenty minutes to get my coffee, organize my assignments, catch up on emails and texts, and calm my mind enough to be able to focus on my work. I know the likelihood of me being alone in that is slim. We have so many distractions that keep us from being productive. We push ourselves to accomplish so much in one day our brains never get time to organize thoughts. We don’t give ourselves time to process information. When we have emotional reactions to events many people don’t know how or have the capacity to deal with it. Our phone rings, our email notification dings, your mom always happens to call right about the time you get in the zone and are actually accomplishing something! The news update comes on your phone that there is another shooting. Because we live in a post-911 world we watch anxiously and pray that somehow no-one dies or that the shooter is stopped. This alone could cause some people to lose a whole days work because of the media coverage that is everywhere you go.
Do you feel anxious just reading this? Imagine this is how some people feel constantly. If you are one of these people or have at some point in your life felt like your are running in a tunnel that never ends, you are not alone. The good news is there are a lot of strategies that can help you become calmer, more organized and productive.
How To Be More Calm And Productive
The key is to try to not implement too much change at once. If you try to do too much you will drop one of the many balls you are juggling and that will cause the same problems as before. We don’t want that, so pick one thing that you think will work for you and make small but long lasting changes. If in two weeks or so you think this new thing is working and you want to try more then add another.
Get Organized: I’ve heard it said that having a cluttered and unorganized environment is a reflection of your mental health. I’m not sure if that is empirically tested, but we all know how we 2 September 26, 2018 feel when our house is a mess verses when everything is clean. Especially when I work from home, I usually have to do the dishes and pick up around the house before I can focus on the work I needed to do that day. Getting organized may include tidying up your environment, reviewing your schedule, and making a to do list with high and low priority tasks.
Do what you can of the high priority tasks and if you cannot complete the list forgive yourself. Remember you are human! It is also important to make realistic goals and to do lists. Don’t make a list that is impossible to complete. At the end of the day, go over in your mind or make a list of all the things you’ve accomplished that day. You will surprise yourself and you will go to bed knowing you did accomplish something!
Create Healthy Habits: Habits are powerful! They should be your best friend. You’ve heard it before and it is so very true, humans are creatures of habits. Our brains function best on habits! Habits can give your life a sense of stability, predictability, and security. When you have poor habits or don’t have good habits established it can really cause you to struggle. The more of your life that can be ritualized and simplified the more space you will have in your brain to accomplish bigger, better, newer things. If you have the habits of the same bedtime and morning routines your body will automatically hop to it without much thought and effort. However, if you don’t have well established routines it takes so much more energy to get going and tell yourself to do each thing every day. Its like when you drive the same rout to work every day. You don’t really think about it. You just get in the car and autopilot takes over and your mind has the extra room to daydream or think about what you need to do that day. I absolutely love the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg! If you want to know the research behind how powerful habits are this is the book to read!
Simplify Your Life: Cut out all the unnecessary things and people from your life. I usually am against cutting people out of your life. However, we all have experienced at some point that person who drags you down. Their negativity, their over reliance on you, their poor boundaries. You have a good heart and you like to help people but sometimes that can severely limit your ability to be successful. I like the way it is described in Boundaries by Dr. Henery Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. They explain that we all have our weight to carry like a backpack of stones. Everyone has their own stones and you should not carry someone else’s for them. You can pray for them or help them with the boulders of life. You should not avoid your responsibilities because you are always taking care of other peoples responsibilities. Sometimes cutting people from your life is only temporary. They may become healthier and add positivity and value to your life again. Another way to simplify your life is to remove the daily decisions that clutter your mind so that you can go on autopilot and reserve that energy for more difficult tasks. Habits help as explained above but other ways may be to limit your clothing choices or have your clothes picked out for the week. Some famously successful people who wear the same thing every day include Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Simon Cowell, and Andy Warhol. Having meals planned and prepped also limits the energy you spend wondering about what you are going to eat and where you will get it from. All these little decisions add up and can distract you from being productive through the day.
Practice Self-Care: In the mental health field we hear a lot about self-care. I will most likely write a whole blog post about self care. It is that important! If you don’t take care of yourself you are not going to have the energy and mental health to be able to be productive and give to others. Remember to replenish your energy. Some people need to go on a run, others need to read a good book. Introverts need alone time and extroverts get their energy from being around others. Find what in life makes you feel renewed and plan it in your schedule. It is an appointment you cannot afford to not keep. To help increase clarity of mind and attention try mindfulness meditation. According to research published in the journal of Brain and Cognition done by Gotink, et al., in only 8 weeks you can change the way your brain works. (you can read the whole article here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/ pii/S0278262616301312) Among many other benefits, mindfulness meditation showed to improve emotion regulation. This has a huge impact on how you manage stressors throughout the day!
If you would like to know more about mindfulness meditation or how to do it, you can ask your therapist or check out the many mindfulness meditation apps in the app store. You can find a list of some of the best ones here: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/topmeditation-iphone-android-apps#the-mindfulness-app.
The most important thing is to not let the day to day pressures weigh you down. Focus on the things you are grateful for. Love and be kind to yourself. Remember the big picture. Remember your purpose.
Kingwood Psychotherapy &