The Art of Distractibility, Part I: Monkey Mind to Masterpiece

Sitting with my interview file on my lap, I try hard to pay attention to my interviewer. I know it’ll be important to respond that what she’s saying, but my thoughts keep wandering. Do I look okay? Can she hear the waver in my voice? Will she smell that “everything” bagel I ate for breakfast? If I want this job, I need to keep my head in the game, but I can’t seem to help being distracted.

Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t focus?

If you’re human, the answer is yes. Our brains, engorged with way more information that we can handle in one moment, often skip from thought to thought. Some researchers estimate that we have 35-48 thoughts per minute! This is because our amazing brains are essentially supercomputers constantly on overdrive. However, having stellar hardware won’t do much good if we feel like we can’t control our thoughts.

Being distracted – or unable to concentrate because your mind is preoccupied – gets in the way of performing and feeling your best. You can’t finish a test, score the winning goal, charm your date, or win over your interviewer if your attention wavers in a critical moment.

So, what do you do about distracting thoughts?

The first thing is to know that your thoughts aren’t necessarily the truth. This is especially important to remember when facing negative thoughts. They’re just fragments of the never-ending stories we tell ourselves. We each experience life as a plotline based around ourselves. Just as you must eventually snap out of a movie to return to the real world, you need to be able to disengage from your thoughts if you want to show up in the here and now.

Look for times when you get caught up in thoughts. When this happens, do the following:

  1. Label the thoughts as thinking. You can even say, “thinking” silently or aloud to yourself.
  2. Remind yourself that thoughts aren’t truth. So whatever is tumbling around in your noggin, you don’t have to believe it (and in most cases, you shouldn’t). If you’re tempted to believe a thought, first put it through this truth test.

Being more aware of when you’re thinking and what thinking really is – a ceaseless stream of you-based monologue – is your first lesson in our Art of Distraction blog series. Stay tuned for more tips on how to pay attention!