How to Focus
Instead of Flounder in Trying Times
By Tim Ursiny
People have various reactions to stress and tough times. This
was dramatically demonstrated recently on a plane from Dallas to
Atlanta. As it started heading out the pilot shut down the plane
announcing that there was bad weather in Atlanta and the plane was
going to be grounded for some time. Passengers grumbled because the
plane was extremely hot with hot air blowing through the vents.
After three hours the pilot announced, “Shut down your phones
we have to go now or we will miss our chance.” After 15 minutes of
not moving a flight attendant started yelling at a passenger to turn
off his cell phone. This man was refusing to get off his call. The
flight attendant yelled more loudly and he closed his phone. After a
sarcastic “Thank you” the flight attendant started down the aisle.
At this point the passenger next to this person yelled, “He’s making
another call!” In a blur the flight attendant ran down the aisle
grabbed his cell phone out of his hand and started walking away.
The passenger jumped out of his seat, grabbed the flight
attendant and yanked back his phone. So it just went from someone
being annoying to a possible Federal offense. The crew got together
to make a decision, “Do we go back to the gate and have him arrested
here or do we fly with this guy to Atlanta and have him arrested
there?” They then surrounded the customer with eight of the biggest
guys on the plane and took off. Well this guy continued whine and
hit his call button the entire flight.
After he was arrested we found out he was not drunk or on
drugs. He was simply mad about the three hours in the heat and was
going to ground that plane “no matter what:. So what is the moral of
the story? Many people don’t respond well to stress and their
reaction often hurts them instead of helps them.
Keys to focusing in
challenging and the “normal” responses to this level of difficulty,
stress and chaos include confusion, distraction and loss of focus.
Those that can get their “head in the game”, however, can find
opportunities that others will miss. So here are three concrete
defensive or offensive strategies to deal with distractions and
stress and focus on actions that will get you results:
The worry chair
– One common conditioning technique used by counselors is the worry
chair strategy. It is especially useful for those who have troubles
falling asleep because they are ruminating about their day. You can
use it at home or work, but we will use the example of someone with
insomnia to demonstrate the process.
Set up a
specific chair in your house that is designated as the worry
If you are
worrying about things and unable to sleep for more than 10
minutes, then get out of your bed and go sit in the worry chair.
to worry all you want when you are in the chair. Take each worry
to its conclusion before you move to the next worry.
Stay there as
long as you need to (until you are done worrying).
Return to bed.
If you start
worrying again then go to your chair and repeat the process. Do
not allow yourself to worry in any other spot in the house (or
office if you do the process there).
You can add
journaling to your worry time if that is helpful for you.
While this technique may be strange, it is a method for you
to condition your worry to that chair instead of your bed, office
chair or anywhere else. It puts you in control of the worry rather
than having the worry control you. Lack of sleep will kill your
focus so don’t allow it to go on too long.
Thought-stopping is a structured procedure for eliminating
troublesome thoughts. It was popularized by Joseph Wolpe and has
been used to treat a wide variety of challenges including:
While the form
of thought-stopping can vary, the basic procedure is:
rubber band on your wrist.
Any time you
have the undesirable thought, you snap the rubber band (not
hard, just enough to feel it).
visualize a stop sign or yell “stop” (unless you are in a
grocery store or other public place).
to yourself a replacement thought that is more helpful.
entire process as often as you need to.
The technique is
meant to help “train the brain” to stop the automatic and
destructive thoughts. Since thoughts are intangible, the rubber band
helps make the process more concrete. The process is simple and
usually only takes a few days or weeks to feel a major impact.
want to stop distracting thoughts try all sorts of complex
strategies for relief. Despite this tendency, thought-stopping
continues to be one of the most effective, yet simple strategies
that psychology has to offer to keep you focused and get results.
technique has been used by major corporations like Disney to take
complex concepts and create a coherent story and focus. All you need
is a marker, a pad of sticky notes and an issue to focus on (such as
a marketing plan, goals for the future, a problem that needs to be
solved, etc.). Once you have these you start brainstorming about the
issue using the following sequence:
critique, put each idea on a sticky note and randomly post them
on a wall or desk.
After you have
exhausted all ideas, cluster the post-it notes that seem
Put a label on
each of your clusters.
anything needs to be added to or removed from any of the
ideas within the categories.
For your top
priority categories, break each important idea into specific and
Put the goals
in a special place or type them up into the computer.
We live in a world full of stress, change and distractions.
While it may be normal to be hindered by these factors, it is not
inevitable. With proper techniques and motivation, we can decrease
our stress, increase our productivity and focus while others
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