In American slang, someone who is twitchy and changes direction quickly is often called a squirrel. Those adorable rodents with long bushy tails spend all summer gathering nuts to prepare for the winter. However, they are known to shift their attention quickly from one thing to another. While squirrels have excellent long-term memories, a squirrel’s average attention span is said to be one second.
Managing distraction is a challenge that everyone deals with every day. For some of us, distraction is a more significant challenge. It may be due to mental health concerns such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression. For many, poor habits trigger distraction.
“Depending on what they are, our habit will either make us or break us. We become what we repeatedly do.”~ Sean Covey
Whatever the cause of the distraction you experience, any number of strategies can help you manage each day just a little bit better; however, one of the most important is developing good habits.
Create a Daily and Weekly Routine
One of the things I repeatedly hear from clients who struggle with distraction and struggle to remain focused is that creating a new routine is “hard.”
Yet, as clients who experience distractibility find ways to develop small habits throughout their day, they start to find a sense of peace and calm, and relaxation. Life gets a little bit easier.
“And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them.”~ Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
How do we begin to create routines and structure in a life that has not had that before? Let’s explore.
1. Start small.
When starting a new routine or starting to build structure in your life, going all-in seems like the right idea. However, when you already feel overwhelmed, having an expectation did you things completely differently can lead to frustration and failure.
So think about what you want to do. For example, let’s say that the goal is to be more successful at work. Make a list of the challenges that you experience and the things that get in the way of success. Make a second list of the things that you already do that work well for you.
Review those lists. Are there things on the list that you are already doing well? Could you increase the frequency of those things?
Or are there items on the list that create barriers to success that need to change immediately to avoid a crisis?
2. Choose one.
Depending on who you read, some will encourage you to choose something that will make the most significant impact on your life. Others will encourage you to choose a small step in the right direction. And so will I.
Navigation experts reference the 1 in 60 rule. If you are in an airplane which veers off course by 1 degree, the plane will miss its destination by 1 mile for every 60 miles it travels. This 1-degree shift in navigation could be the difference between landing in New York City or New Windsor, New York. And while New Windsor might be a fair town, it wasn’t your destination. Small changes can make a big difference over time.
3. Break it down.
To continue our example, let’s say that you want to create the habit of showing up to work on time. Write out your morning routine, starting from the moment that you get up.
To get the most accurate information, I encourage people to keep track of their morning routine for a week. Taking note of what time you get up, how many times you press the snooze bar, what order you do things, and what time you leave the house. Also, take note f what tasks you skip because you are distracted and unprepared.
Tracking your time helps to get a clear understanding of what is happening during the time that you want to make changes. It also highlights where the areas are that you might be getting distracted. Tracking also identifies areas where you may need to make changes.
The third step is to evaluate the information that you’ve gathered. In our example, you would look at the general morning schedule. Don’t jump to completely revising your morning schedule; look for one thing you could do to make the morning run more smoothly.
- Could you make their lunch the night before to save a few minutes in the morning?
- Could you walk or ride their bike to work instead of trying to go to the gym before they go into the office?
- Could you move their alarm clock across the room so to turn off the alarm, you have to get out of bed and reduce the number of times you hit the snooze bar?
Now is the time to get creative.
One client I worked with started putting her alarm clock in her gym shoes by her bedroom door. To turn off the alarm, she had to put her hands on her gym shoes. This change in habit reduced the number of times that she hit the snooze bar and increased the number of times that she went running before work. Note that running before work was one of her primary goals, and hitting the snooze alarm multiple times interfered with her meeting that goal.
5. Create the Cue.
MIT researchers identified three parts to creating new habits: the cue, the routine (habit), and the reward.
The cue is the trigger for your new habit. It is the thing that catches your attention and helps you to stay focused. Depending on the new habit you are trying to develop, the cue could be setting the alarm, wearing your running clothes to bed, or a post-it note on the bathroom mirror.
Brainstorm as many ideas as you can and pick one to try for several weeks.
6. Give Yourself Time.
Studies show that it takes an average of 66 days to create a new habit. We have often heard 21 days; however, three weeks is the time required to establish a new routine. According to Phillippa Lally of the University College of London, we develop new habits in 21 days; however, it can take up to 90 days to make a permanent life change.
7. Reward Yourself.
The final piece of the puzzle is the reward. For some, the reward may stress reduction that occurs when they engage in their new routine. Others may need more encouragement. Rewards reinforce your commitment to engaging in your new routine.
Find what works for you. Put a star on the calendar for each day that you complete your new routine. Or, give yourself gifts for reaching milestones such as eating lunch out when you hit the 21-day mark or new earbuds when you’ve achieved 90 days.
Putting It Together.
The human brain is impressive: we can train our minds. When we act with intention, we begin to live life with purpose. To be more focused, less distracted, and less stressed, take one step in the direction you want to go. Change your navigation by one degree and see where it takes you.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”~ Maria Robinson, The Chemistry of Joy
. . . . .
Seeking Health and Happiness One Day at a Time.
Marcy Berg is a writer and therapist living in the Pacific Northwest and exploring thoughts on mental health, wellness, and happiness. She can be found at Growing Through Life and Seeking Greener Pastures.