Riding An Elephant

Do you find it difficult to concentrate and remain focused?  When trying to focus do thoughts, ideas, plans and memories start popping into your head? Are you easily distracted?  Does it seem like you’re this small rider trying to control a massive elephant that is wandering off in the direction that it wants to go?

Being faced with distractions is a permanent feature of our working lives so you need to understand how your brain works in order to help you learn to manage your distractions, and become more effective.

A study has shown that distractions take up over 2 hours of your day and that after you have become distracted, it generally takes people about 25 minutes before they return to their original task.   

The key here is that it exhausts your brain when you are distracted and then it becomes more difficult for you to remain focused.  The more distractions = less energy in your brain = diminished performance.

Did you know that we can generally only hold one thought for about 10 seconds?  So we need to understand that the way to remain focused is to learn how to stop allowing things to come into your focus.

The most obvious distractions we face are the external ones; emails, text messages, phone ringing etc.  So the simple answer is to turn off all the devices that connect you to the world and can easily distract you.  Give yourself a chance by planning time later in the day to deal with emails and messages!

The other distractions you face are internal and this is where you need to develop skills to turn away from your internal urges.  You need to understand what is happening in your brain so that you can apply the brakes when internal thoughts and urges appear, as they inevitably will!

It takes half a second from when your brain signals something to you and you respond and take action.  You cannot really stop your brain signalling something to you, but you can intervene in the process during this half second to stop you acting.  You need to think about how you think.  Pay attention, be aware and notice what comes into your mind, and then choose to reject these distractions.

The fact that you are now have knowledge of this process already places you on the path to resisting your urges!  David Rock in his book “Your Brain at Work” states that by applying a verbal understanding of the process, you “help make your brain’s processes more explicit and, as a result, give you more veto power over dealing with too much information, too many demands on your attention, too many distractions” (developing this ability can also increase your creativity, but that’s another story!)

So give your rider more power by increasing your attention on how you think, and you’ll better control your elephant and improve your performance!

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