Tropical Storm Isaac never really materialized in Lafayette, LA. We read about him, prepared for him, watched his every move on the weather channel, and then waited for his arrival. It was during the waiting period that I found myself distracted.
Ironically, I picked up the book described below and had trouble concentrating on more than a couple of pages at a time. I sat down at my computer to write a proposal and just couldn't seem to get to it. Instead I cleaned out my computer in-box and performed a few other tedious or mindless tasks that I always seem to put off.
I was looking forward to my coaching sessions as I knew I would be able to focus on my clients. But when it was time for the call or my client to arrive, many either forgot about the appointment due to being distracted by the storm or weren't in the head space to concentrate for a coaching appointment.
I clearly was not alone in my distracted state. For my friends in New Orleans who lost power for many days, their waiting dragged on even longer. One friend spent part of her time organizing her recipes. I wish I had thought of that.
Zen Master Seung Sahn said, "One unit of time is an hour. But my thinking sometimes makes this hour very long, or very short. You go to the airport to pick up your girlfriend. You haven't seen her in a long time. You wait at the airport, and the airplane is very late. So this one hour feels like a very, very long time because you want to see her very much, and you sit there saying, 'Where is the plane? Why hasn't it arrived yet?' But yet some other time, you go dancing with friends, and dance all night, and even one hour seems to pass by very quickly. 'A whole hour has already passed? It seems like only a minute!' So mind makes one hour very long or very short. Time depends on thinking, because time is created by thinking. The Buddha taught this, and we can test it in our everyday life. 'Everything is created by mind alone.'"
Waiting for Isaac made the hours go by very slowly for me. "Everything is created by mind alone." I tried to observe my mind. What is true for me right now? I observed that watching the Weather Channel made me anxious, so I limited my TV time.
I noted that I was able to handle concrete tasks, so I baked a plum and nectarine crisp and made two batches of pesto with fresh basil from the garden. I cleaned the house and did laundry. But in terms of thinking or creative work, I wasn't up for that challenge.
David Rock, in his book, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long provides some clues as to why it was so difficult for me to concentrate on thinking tasks during Isaac and why so many people have trouble focusing on the important tasks at work.
"The brain is easily distracted, and distractions have a big energy cost."
Rock describes brain research that illustrates that when we are tired, hungry, or anxious it becomes even harder to control impulses. We also make more mistakes at those times. During Isaac I wasn't hungry, but I was tired and anxious.
Rock explains that it is possible to better manage distractions when we understand the mental processes involved. In the coming months, I will share more of his ideas. In the meantime, you may want to pick up his book and share what you are learning.
Please share your reflections with me personally or on the Oak Communications Coaching and Consulting Facebook page.