From Frustrated/Distracted to Focused

05:23 Sat 06 Jan 2007. Updated: 20:26 27 Jun 2013
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Following on from the success of my set of steps for getting into a creative mode, I’ve come up with a similar process to tackle what seems like a harder problem: getting out of being frustrated/distracted and into a state of being focused.

I often get myself into states where I am distracting myself, and am frustrated by this. I find that I feel like I want to do “something”, but also shy away from actually doing anything. I think the way it works is that I approach some task, feel some resistance to doing it (fear that I won’t be able to do it, or possibly just inertia), distract myself from it with something like web surfing, get frustrated with the distraction activity (because it feels empty, naturally enough), build a desire to “do something”, encounter the resistance again, distract myself with something shiny online (or wherever), and so on. And when I realize that I’m in this state, I get frustrated with myself and look for relief from that frustration… which typically comes in the form of more distraction.

It’s clearly possible to get out of this state (else I’d never get anything done), and it seems like a process for getting out of it might be very helpful. This is my first pass at such a process:

  • Take 5 deep breaths.
  • Find a place to write (notebook page, new buffer in text editor, whatever).
  • Take 5 deep breaths again.
  • Write down the things that you want to do, or the things that you feel you should do. Preferably this should be a list of more than one thing, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • (At each of the following steps, if you feel yourself getting agitated or nervous, take 5 deep breaths again whenever it might help.)
  • For each one, write down how resistant you feel to it, and whatever comes to mind to describe that resistance and where it comes from.
  • For each one, try to break it down into sub-tasks, with specific focus on what the first few things are that would be required to get going on it.
  • For each one (or, if possible, each sub-task), write down how urgent it is. No hyperbole please.
  • At this point, see if you can start the first sub-task for the most urgent thing on the list.
  • If not, consider the fact that distracting yourself from it while not doing it is a waste, and that if you’re going to avoid that task you might as well do another one. Also, note any further insight on where the resistance to doing the most urgent task is coming from.
  • Choose another task from the list—if you don’t have any other task on the list, make one. It doesn’t have to be related to the other item(s), and in fact it’s probably better if it’s not.
  • See if you can start the first sub-task for the second-most urgent thing on the list.
  • If not, try the next one, and so on. If you get to the end of the list and you’re still refusing to do any of it, try adding items like “take a break” or “take a walk”.
  • If you get this far and still can’t do anything, at least stand up and get away from your workspace for a while. Consider the following words: confident, capable, calm, determined, strong.
  • Start this process over again.

It’s too long. Not that the process itself might take too long, but that’s too long a list of steps. Still, I’m going to try it out before attempting to refine it, and then I’ll see what could be taken out.

A danger I see here is repetition of this process itself becoming a distraction activity (one that it’s easy not to feel guilty about since it clearly indicates at least an attempt to do whatever resisted task(s) awaits). But I’m hoping that the enforced awareness of what’s going on will eliminate that possibility.

The main problem apart from that is that when I’m in that state, I rarely seem to have the wherewithal to invoke a process like this one. But that’s a matter of training. Training to recognize the distracted state and to go through this process once such recognition occurs.

I’ll try this over the next several weeks—since I’m returning to work soon and am also planning heavy editing work on my novel, I may have plenty of opportunities to see how it works.

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