If you’re anything like me, maintaining a steady stream of focus is difficult to do for more than a few hours.
I start to feel like I a Transformer shifting between two forms: focused and distracted. When I am focused, ideas and productivity seem to flow through me effortlessly. When I am distracted, every second feels like drudgery. Often feeling distracted is the first symptom of worse things to come. If left uncheck, my distraction can turn into exhaustion, headaches and sometimes anxiety/depression.
There’s many things that can cause me to become distracted. I can become distracted by a text on my phone, a YouTube video or even something innocent like my wife telling me about her day. In fact, rarely do I become distracted by things that seem unhealthy.
So what is it that causes my brain to switch into this “distracted mode”? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I have a theory. Think of your brain like a blender, and you are trying to make a delicious, beautiful and healthy smoothie. The fruit you add to your blender are your thoughts, ideas, and goals. When you start your day focused, it’s like your brain has a purpose, your ingredients are pure. As you go about your day, you start encountering other people’s thoughts and ideas. These outside thoughts are ingredients you didn’t plan to add to your smoothie. Maybe other people aren’t making smoothies at all. Maybe people are making hotdogs, so they add that to your blender. Maybe they are trying to be healthy and focused too, but they aren’t making smoothies, they are making salad so they toss a tomato in your blender. And maybe some people art making good ol’ toxic waste, and you can’t stop them from dumping that in your blender… Soon, your smoothie is wasted, there’s no way to redeem it without starting over.
So how do you clear a contaminated brain blender? Well, first you have to clean your blender, you need to dumb all that junk out.
You will see some people say, “no, I can redeem this. I just need to add more healthy things back in” or “If I brute force myself, I can get this done.” I’ve tried this method, it never works.
The best way that I have found to clear this junk out of my blender is with a 10 minute walk. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, it can even be an indoor walk if you have enough space. What you need to do is give your brain the time to rinse your thoughts of crud that doesn’t belong there.
Believe it or not, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here are three simple steps to taking a cleansing walk.
1) Go Alone
It will be tempting to invite a friend or coworker to go along with you. While this may be a nice way to bond, it’s not a great way to clear your head. The things you talk about with your partner may make you feel better in the short term, it will not last. Once you are back to work, you will feel distracted.
You need to take a quiet, lonely walk. You don’t need to make a show of it. Just get up, and start walking.
2) Focus on something else
It maybe tempting to contemplate the project you are struggling with while you are on your walk. Do not do this!
The only way that you will be able to clean your head out is if you dump everything out of it, and I mean EVERYTHING. Yes, even the thing you want to work on. If you head contaminated with junk, everything needs to go. Think of it like moldy food in your fridge. You don’t want it.
While you are on your walk, focus on reading signs that you would usually ignore. Read street signs, read warning signs, read license plates. Focusing on these kind of things creates a mindfulness of your surrounding. It also occupies your thoughts with something easy to forget. Like using soap in your blender.
3) No Phone
This is something I struggled with when I first started taking intentional breaks. I would convince myself that using my phone on the walk was fine. I was still getting fresh air and sun shine, so it must be healthy, right?
Leave it behind. You phone is a device designed to dirty your mental blender. Leave it behind. If you have something so urgent that it needs to bring it along, then this is not a break. You are not giving your brain the time it needs to handle problems efficiently.