I decided I better get back to writing blog posts. I have had my fill of writing in my break from the blog – I’m writing four missionaries weekly and am doing final edits on my book – but haven’t felt like I’ve connected with all of you in the same way since I stopped. So, like it or not…I’m back!
This week was a perfect one to get back into the swing of things because I’ve had a lot to write about! Nine years ago my husband and I were asked to help create a weeklong family camping program, connected with the adult Boy Scouts WoodBadge training. It was a lot of work, but the fruits of that labor have been sweet. Hundreds of adults have been trained, which have then guided, led and mentored thousands of young men and women. It was worth every minute.
The first three years of the program, we were either Program or Course Director – the big shots in charge of everything. Taking a fledgling program and helping it to fly is very labor intensive, and we got a little burned out. So we volunteered to be over the 14-17 year old kids the following year, and haven’t looked back. This week we are at camp, and we are over the 12-13 year olds. Our two youngest kids are in the group of 22 kids, and it’s been a blast!
Can I do this?
What do we do? Play all week! Sure there is some guiding and loving and mentoring – and herding – that needs to happen, but mostly we just play along with them. This morning our group was scheduled to do the high COPE course. COPE stands for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience. We scaled poles towering high above the ground, and pushed ourselves out onto ropes and planks and wires, tethered in, but requiring strength and agility and guts.
I had done this course two years ago, and wondered if I really needed to do it again. Well, the COPE leaders weren’t taking no for an answer. And this time, I would do the high course (about 10 feet higher up, with trickier elements to traverse across). Gulp.
Now, I’m supposed to be the example here. So I started climbing up the pole. I swear that’s the hardest part! Hand over hand, trying to find the next foothold or handhold. I finally got to the top, out of breath and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into! The first challenge was a bridge of widely space boards suspended over nothing but lots of air! My mouth went dry and I knew I had to do it, but the first step was the hardest. It literally was. After I got started, the adrenaline and the encouragement from my “ground buddy” down below kept me moving steadily through all of the challenges.
Whew! Made it!
When you are done with the course, you zip line down to the bottom and with the help of your buddy, let yourself down the rope. I jumped off the platform, gladly riding the zip line to the bottom, started to let myself down with the lever on my gear and then fell! I had opened the lever up completely and couldn’t get it stopped before I landed right on my backside from about 10 feet up. Ouch! I hadn’t had a misstep the entire time on the high course, and here I was, sitting in the dirt, with a bruised tailbone and wrist at the end of the zip line.
Trying to play the tough-girl role, I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was hurting. So I played it cool, walked the zip line back up and took my place in the shade with the others.
Losing Focus is natural
What happened? Quite simply, I lost focus. I was laser focused while dangling 30 feet in the air, but as soon as I jumped off that platform and went whizzing down to the bottom, I let off the focus and my sore tailbone is what I get to show for it! This is so easy to do in life! We focus hard when the stakes are high (and let’s be honest, focusing hard takes energy), but let off when it doesn’t matter as much.
So how can we stay focused when it matters most? I learned that our brains are finely tuned to distractions. In today’s words, we can’t keep our eyes off the squirrels! And to let us all off the hook, that is the way we have been wired. A distraction is an alert. If you are living in the wilds, the snap of a twig, the warning shriek of a bird – all of these things are distractions that need to be paid attention to for survival. We do it automatically and it’s unstoppable.
We are also rewarded with a flood of chemicals when we need a distraction.
“Oh, I just remembered I need to pick up some yogurt on the way home from work today. Yes! So glad I remembered! (flood of happy emotions). Now, what was I working on??”
Strategies for Focus
I can’t speak for you, but I’m not living in the wilds anymore, and would really like to turn off that distraction switch and get something done. Some strategies I’ve learned that really do work:
- First, realize that we are never going to be able to go through a day, or even an hour, without becoming distracted. But we can aim for short periods of distraction-free time. Twenty minutes of deep focus can really make a difference in your performance and outlook.
- Do creative work first. I know I trend toward busy work first – cleaning up emails, going through my to-do pile, etc. Problem is these things take energy too and lower our ability to focus when we need it. So, start with the toughest, most creative things that require the most concentration and do the busy work later in the day.
- Studies show that we are truly focused for an average of only 6 hours per week. You read that right! So be really diligent with what you put in those hours. Most people focus best early in the morning or late at night, and most of us are more focused outside of the office. So pay attention to when you are most focused and effective and save that time for your most important tasks.
- Practice working without distractions. You’ve had years of evolutionary practice to be distracted, so you need to create an environment that works against that trend. Put your phone away, close all nonpertinent windows on your computer, turn off any audio that doesn’t lead to focus. Do it for five minutes at a time and work up to longer sessions. If you feel your mind wandering, bring it back to the task at hand. It’s easy if you know there is an end to the focus time.
Try incorporating one or more of these ideas in your day and see where the focus takes you. I know my lack of focus and my sore tailbone are certainly rewards I don’t want to enjoy again!
Drop me a line and let me know if you enjoy these posts and any ideas you would like me to share. If you’ve followed me in the past, you know the topics will swing widely as do my interests and experiences! Glad to be sharing again!
Have a great week!
Dr. Michelle Jorgensen