Reflections on Distractions and Focus

Writing by the ocean

Another year has gone by. They say time flies when you’re having fun. I think it also flies when we’re distracted.

This year was marked by simplifying more but falling short on other stuff. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much of what I wanted. My hope is to shed some light onto my shortcomings so we can learn from them.

Before I go into it I just to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here. I love each one of you and appreciate the time you take to read and connect with me.

I’m also truly grateful to have had a peaceful and kind year. My family and friends are all well. I’m healthy and working on things I love. So what I share below is not intended to be taken with a negative slant, but as an opportunity for growth and fulfillment.

The year started for me with a desire to focus on a few things and let everything else go. I managed that but only for a short period of time before old patterns took over. Below are some of the observations and lessons from this year.

Fear comes in many shapes and forms.

Fear can manifest itself in resistance, hesitation, doubt about oneself and the value of contribution. I think I experienced all of these when I tried to write a book.

I’m not going to give you advice on how to crush fear. Because I haven’t been able to do it. What I’ve been able to do though is figure a way to work with fear and slowly get something done. The points below will help.

Public commitment and declaration of intentions can backfire.

It’s not for everyone. I learned this the hard way. I declared twice on this blog that I would write a book. And I failed. I admit it and own it.

Nothing was stopping me from writing, other than my own fears. The fact that I put it out there added to my anxiety—not my motivation.

If I look back at how I started anything and accomplished it, I just worked at it quietly. So you’re not going to hear me talking about my intentions. If I do something, I will gladly share it with the world. But if I don’t, I’ll keep going, in silence.

Tracking is a holy practice of awareness and change.

This year I’ve tracked, on a daily basis, the time I woke up, the time I spent working, exercise and movement, writing, whether I meditated or not, what I ate and what I watched (TV and movies).

Numbers don’t lie. I saw first hand where I fell short and where I did well. I didn’t need to think about it. The data provided the input for me to make a change or keep going.

Some people are against tracking their time and activity. It’s fine if you’re satisfied with your progress. But if you’re not, start writing things down and gain more awareness into your habits and patterns.

Accountability and consequences are crucial.

This is something I was wrong about. I thought I could just set my intention and do something. This will work for a while, but when motivation wears off, we need consequences to fulfill our obligations, to ourselves and others.

I used to look at movie stars and how they get very fit before a role and I admired their discipline and commitment. But the truth of the matter is: it’s their job. They’re being paid to prepare for a role. They have a lot to lose if they don’t do it.

The same applies to all of us when we have a job to do; if we don’t do it, we’ll get fired. But what about all the things we want to do for ourselves?

The simple answer is accountability. We have to set up consequences for not doing something. Otherwise, we’re more likely than not to stop.

In April of this year, I lost personal financial data for four months. I felt discouraged and didn’t want to deal with it. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

One of the best things I’ve done is use an app called unstuck. I detailed how I was feeling and what I needed to do. Then I committed to my partner. I gave myself two weeks to work on it. If I didn’t do it, I would give up my iPad for two weeks.

And let me tell you, there was no way in hell I was going to give up reading for two weeks. So I did it. I actually slacked off for a couple of days, but made up for it later. I met the deadline and kept the iPad.

If it wasn’t for that, I would still be fretting about it till today.

We need accountability and consequences to guarantee that we’re going to follow through and get something done.

Self-discipline matters a lot.

I was mistaken about self-discipline. I didn’t think it mattered much. As long as we feel motivated to do something, we will get it done. The thing is: motivation ebbs and flows. What do we do when we don’t feel like it?

This is where self-discipline kicks in (along with accountability).

We need it to keep going when resistance, fear or sheer laziness emerge (and they will). Self-discipline is a skill that we get better at with practice. We don’t lack discipline; we need to extend it to other areas of our life.

I also recognize that self-discipline won’t turn me into a super doer. It’s wise to allow for low energy and slip-ups. We’re only human, so a bit of slacking off every now and then is expected.

Over-commitment is a form of resistance.

This was one big a-ha moment for me. I did that a lot in the past and what happened is: I got nothing done.

Saying yes to everything, without a clear purpose and deadline, is a trap. You will overwhelm yourself and compound your resistance. And in the mean time nothing gets done.

The most important no is the one you say to yourself sometimes.

I used to get a lot of books and then get some more before I was done reading the first one. Now I limit myself to two books, one fiction, and one nonfiction. I will say no to anything else until I finish a book or decide it’s not worth my time and let it go.

Prioritizing is the art that leads to accomplishment.

To be clear about one’s priorities is a skill that I wish we could teach kids in school (or remind them of how good they were at it before adults started bossing them around).

Knowing what’s important and sticking to it is the best way to stay focused. This is one of the reasons I didn’t get much done.

I had too many important things competing for my attention. I didn’t tackle all of them at once, but I jumped from one thing to the other, without completing or discarding the task or project. This means I left too many open doors of nagging pain.

And when we master prioritizing, we won’t over-commit.

A couple of articles from the archives that might be helpful:

Schedule important work if you want to get it done.

I used to think that scheduling is boring and rigid. I realized this year that if I want to get something that matters done, I need to know exactly when I’m going to do it and stick (i.e. have the discipline) to the schedule.

Scheduling can be a time block or it simply can be after an established routine. For example after you wake up, before or after a meal, or before going to bed.

It’s very easy to forget about something when we’re dealing with life. If you want something done, schedule it and set a reminder for yourself. Keep doing this till the practice becomes part of your habitual routine.

I hope you found these pointers useful to you. If you intend on implementing them, I highly recommend starting with prioritizing and accountability.

And that’s it for 2012.

I wish you and your loved ones the very best in 2013. May your days be filled with love, joy, and peace. You are loved by all of life.