Have you noticed the tendency to be somewhere else—in your mind? Our bodies may be present, but our minds are elsewhere—at home, at work, on vacation, out with friends—anywhere but where we actually are! For some reason, the human mind has a problem being the same place the body is.
I used to travel quite a lot, and invariably when I was away, my mind was back home. And not necessarily because I was homesick. Oftentimes, I was thinking about projects that I needed to get started on or work that needed to be done. And conversely, when I was home, my mind was often “at work.” Rather than enjoying and making the most of whatever environment I was in, my mind seemed to conspire against me to keep me from “being where I was.”
I have been thinking about this frustrating proclivity for our minds and bodies to not be quite in sync. Thus, when just such an experience occurred a few weeks ago, I was unusually aware of it.
I was privileged to be included in a two-day leadership seminar along with a handful of others who were traveling in from other states. The seminar began at 9 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday mornings and lasted all day. On the work front, I had a real estate deal that was getting ready to close the following week, and consequently, some of the final steps in the closing process were due to be taken care of that Friday. As I drove in to the seminar, I felt a moment or two of resentment that this seminar was taking my whole day. I mean, after all, I had important work to do.
I immediately felt reproved. I took a mental step back and reviewed the work that had to be taken care of that day, and it came into perspective. Everything could easily be attended to by phone and would probably not take more than a few minutes. And yet, somehow, my mind was blowing it out of proportion—to the point that I felt resentful about the opportunity that was immediately before me.
I suddenly recognized this beast for who he was: this tendency to miss the beauty of the moment due to being distracted by something else. I spoke to myself in my most authoritative voice (some might call it my “mother voice”) and ordered, “Diane, be present in these meetings! You can take care of business during the breaks, but during the meetings, be present! Don’t be thinking about what else you could be doing; this is what you’re doing today.”
I entered the meeting room, greeted my fellow seminar-attendees and I was present—physically and mentally. And it was amazing! The seminar, I mean. My focus was razor sharp. Though much of what I heard was review, it obviously had not penetrated my mind and my heart before, for it was as if I was hearing it for the first time. It was life-changing.
I dealt very little with a wandering mind, grogginess, or any other kinds of distractions. During the breaks, I answered a few work-related emails as quickly as possible so I could chat with the others. Just before the final session in late afternoon, I had to return a business phone call that was time-sensitive.
As it turned out, the call that I had to return was not only informational, there was also a problem to be resolved. It required me to make a couple of other phone calls and change and confirm a date with three separate parties. Unfortunately, I was unable to get in touch with one of the parties, and so the issue was still not completely resolved when I returned to the seminar, already 10 minutes into the last session. This was the acid test of my ability to stay focused, to be present in the meeting.
Would I be able to leave this issue—with its loose ends—at the door and focus?
As I returned to the meeting, I admonished myself once again to “be present.” And to my surprise—and pleasure—I immediately engaged with what was being taught. This was definitely a new personal level of focus.
The Seduction of Distraction
Distraction, and the consequent lack of focus, is a major issue of our times. We can’t have even a brief conversation with someone without sharing them with their cell phone—talking, surfing, texting and checking emails.
“Everyone else” is not the problem, though. In my private world, I deal with distractions when I am all alone. I can’t read a simple email without clicking a link to a “related article.” Once at the resulting website, I find myself enticed by yet another—and then another and another and another—cleverly-titled link, until I am left wondering what I was doing when I began this link-clicking frenzy. It takes me moments to retrace my steps and return to the original business at hand—but not without first losing momentum in my work and wasting time surfing needlessly around the web.
Even when I do manage to stay focused on what I am supposed to be doing, intrusive banners sneak onto my computer screen announcing that I have a new message on Facebook (important, no doubt) or a sound alerts me to a new incoming email.
This barrage of links and notifications and banners and alerts make it no surprise that we are losing the ability to concentrate for more than a few seconds at a time. It is no wonder that I had to have a “pep talk” with myself to be present.
And so it was that as I drove to the seminar that morning, I came to the realization that I resented a marvelous opportunity to attend an impacting seminar with quality people who had driven in from other states. And why? Because of a few measly calls I needed to make and maybe a minor problem to solve that would take but a few minutes of my time.
When I realized how out of sync my thinking was with that which is meaningful and important, I adjusted myself. I “set my mind” on being present in the meeting.
The Process to Discovery
The truth is, I didn’t just begin thinking about focus and concentration and distractions and “being present” during the drive to the seminar. Recognizing my propensity to distraction, and seeing its detrimental effect in various areas, I had been mulling it over for some time. I had no solutions, but for me, “epiphanies” usually begin as I consider the problem over a protracted period of time.
A couple of scriptures had crossed my mind. One of them was Romans 8:5 – “…those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Oh, how I love the idea of the “set mind.” I didn’t fully know how to go about it, but I knew that was what I needed in order to still my “flighty” mind.
It was after this realization (of how unfocused I was), rumination (thinking about it and considering solutions) and revelation (connecting the issue to some pertinent scriptures) that my epiphany came as I drove to the seminar that fateful morning.
Certainly I am not saying that I have arrived and that I no longer deal with distraction. Instead, I acknowledge that I experienced a level of success that one day by speaking to myself and commanding my mind to follow rather than lead. I have no doubt that as I continue to battle my flighty mind that I will discover other methods of bringing the mind into subjection to my spirit (see Running to Win for more on the dominant spirit).
“Awareness” is another term for “being present.” So many of our problems we accept without any resistance, chalking them up to “That’s just the way I am” or “That’s just the way life is.” When we begin to investigate for solutions, we are stepping into the realm of change/transformation.
I have long practiced the power of self-talk. Most people do, in fact, but too many use it in a negative way, flowing with any negative stream of thought that comes their way. The secret to transformative self-talk is to combat those negative streams with truth! And truth can be found in the word of God. In my example, for instance, the truth was that it is possible to “set my mind.” The journey that will follow is in the discovery of how to set my mind.
Follow-through is a “common sense” factor. While sitting in the seminar, I did not check my email except during the breaks, and even then only reading those that might be work-related and time-sensitive. I sat on the front row to eliminate the distractions of people around me. I muted my phone so I would not hear incoming texts.
For every issue that we deal with, there will also be some common-sense steps for addressing them. These common-sense steps will not be the answer in and of themselves, but they are a definite component of success.
Do you have other solutions for dealing with distractions and a “flighty mind”? Are you as frustrated with distractions and the inability to focus as I am? Please share in the comments.
Photo compliments of Rishi Bandopadhay via Flickr