Snap on the Gloves
I've never been accused of having an idle mind. In fact, I usually have several projects going on at the same time. In this sense, my brain is like my computer. Even though there may be only one image on the screen, there are always programs running in the background.
These days multitasking is not only common, it's frequently a source of pride. "I can't be happy unless I'm doing a dozen things all at once," confessed my friend and colleague, Steve Passik - a prolific expert on chronic pain. Done well, multitasking can enhance productivity.
However, done poorly, multitasking can lead to disaster. The most flagrant example of this is smartphoning and driving. Notice I did not single out texting. There are many other seductive activities made possible by your little touchscreen soulmate (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Spotify - to name a few). Add to this recipe the incessant radio, roadside advertisements, conversations with passengers, and the actual driving part - at high speeds among hundreds of fellow multitasking motorists - and it's amazing we ever survive the morning commute. We could all have more focus.
As I write these words, I'm sitting alone at a desk in my house. It's after 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. My family is asleep. Distractions are minimal. I'm tired but making progress. And I'd make even more progress if fatigue would stop occasionally blurring my vision. Good thing I'm not driving, or performing surgery, or flying an airplane...or conversing with loved ones.
Author Mitch Albom concluded Tuesdays with Morrie with advice about focus for his younger self:
I want to tell him to be more open,
to ignore the lure of advertised values,
to pay attention when your loved ones are speaking,
as if it were the last time you might hear them.
And Victorian-era philosopher Thomas Carlyle said it this way:
Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance,
but to do what lies clearly at hand.
Inspired by Carlyle's words, the revered physician Sir William Osler advised Yale's 1913 medical school graduates to:
Shut off the future as tightly as the past...
Cultivate the habit of a life of day-tight compartments.
Dr. Osler's message to these fledgling doctors was that success comes from focusing on the task at hand. We could all have more focus.
Last year, Hall of Fame basketball coach Rick Pitino wrote a book titled The One-Day Contract. In it he opined that you get the most out of your abilities when approaching each day as though the next day's employment hangs in the balance. The coach attributed his recent surge in accomplishments to this way of thinking: "Over the past three years a switch has flipped on for me. I have become more focused on making the most of the present than I have ever been and more determined not to get caught up in all the superficial distractions."
More than superficial were the distractions plaguing Derek Anderson's young life; yet somehow he kept his focus. I met Derek two days ago at the Celebrate Freedom Dinner benefitting Louisville's Healing Place addiction recovery center. To a riveted crowd, Derek recounted his struggle to overcome: abandonment by his father, neglect from his addict mother, the challenge of being a teenage single parent, the burden of poverty, and "the shocking memory of my sister dying in agony, reaching up to grab her daughter's hand, as my father's best friend stabbed her seventeen times."
Derek's determination, positive attitude, and focus enabled him to achieve success as an NCAA, Olympic, and NBA champion; and now as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author. However, his most cherished successes stem from his roles as a father and as a son who eventually was able to reconnect with his estranged parents.
Focus, as Coach Pitino says, is a discipline: "From the time you wake up, it must be a conscious effort." And like any discipline, there are tactics that, when they become habit, will optimize the likelihood of success. Living healthy, avoiding procrastination, prioritizing, planning, and setting goals are among the best of these strategies. We could all have more focus.
As a physician, I will vouch for that.
Entering the room where I perform therapeutic procedures, first you will notice - on the wall beyond the x-ray machine - a whiteboard bearing your name and important facts about you. I will greet you, go over your health history, review your procedure, and discuss your expectations. I will connect with you as a person - not a diagnosis.
When my sterile surgical gloves snap on, all distractions are vanquished. My eyes, barely visible above my mask, and shielded by the ample x-ray goggles ("blinders"), glance again at the whiteboard - to double check. No phone calls, no texting, no social media are allowed to come between you and me. Only then, with laser focus, do I proceed. The job demands this. You deserve this.
The seductive urge to multi-task can shatter life's small hours. Instead, imagine the outcome you seek. Discipline yourself. Snap on the gloves. Have more focus. And achieve success day by day-tight day.
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