While in the middle of writing a proposal at work have you found yourself interrupted by thoughts of, “Is that cute guy I just met going to call me back?” Or you’re working out on the treadmill and your mind strays to, “Will I ever lose these 15 lbs?”
We do it often and don’t realize it.
We get into our toddler brain. The un-trained mind is like a toddler. It gets distracted a lot by thoughts we didn’t even know you had.
Treat Your Mind Like the Toddler It Is
It’s normal for our mind to stray. It’s when our mind is constantly interrupted by thoughts of fear, anxiety and worry, or the “buzz killers” as I call them, that we need to employ the tactic we did when our kids were toddlers. If you’ve had kids or been around them you know the answer – distraction.
Don’t confuse it with sticking your head in the sand. That’s denial, a different “D” word.
Distraction can be an excellent tool. Many of you probably employ it already and might not even know you’re doing it. Good job, you! Let’s say all day long at work you’re worried you’re not going to get that promotion. You could come home and sit in front of the TV and worry some more. Or you can get busy. That’s when you clean the kitchen, mow the yard, do a load of laundry. Not only do you take your mind off things – bonus – you get chores done!
When you’re trying to work and the thoughts keep intruding into your normal stream of consciousness is when you have to employ any kind of distraction you can. Put in your earbuds and listen to your favorite tunes. Go get some coffee and hum quietly as you walk. Whatever it takes.
Repetition is Required
Once our mind gets caught in a pattern it’s hard to break it. Like forming any new habit, it takes repetition. Every time you catch your mind wandering or obsessing, distract it. If it helps, have a new, pleasant thought handy to go to every time you catch your wandering mind. Instead of wondering if that guy will call you back, replace the thought with either he will or something entirely different like, “I’m having a great day today!” Even if you’re not, it’s perfectly ok to tell your mind that. It doesn’t know the difference.
Just like a toddler’s brain, our mind doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined. So, fill it with all the imagined thoughts you like. The more you imagine them, the more they can come true. It doesn’t matter if they’re not real now, they can be. That’s the point. If you want something to become real, imagine it. It’s ok to constantly think about or obsess over the good stuff, but most of us don’t. We’ve been programmed to obsess over our fears, doubts and worries.
Use Your Affirmations
This is where affirmations come in handy. Have a positive phrase available every time a negative thought comes into your head. Distract your “toddler brain” with a positive thought instead. Keep a list on your phone if you need to. Write it down and put it by your computer so you see it every day. It doesn’t matter where you put it, having it easily accessible is the key when you need to distract yourself.
What happens when we tell a toddler they can’t have something? They come back with their favorite word, “NO!” Do the same thing with your mind. When it wants to wander, say no. Then bring it back to center with distractions or affirmations.
Chop Wood, Carry Water
There’s a reason the Buddhists espouse the philosophy, “chop wood, carry water.” For most of us it’s a way to keep busy and focus on the task at hand. They know that it goes deeper than that. Doing rote tasks is actually an invitation to allow our minds to connect with our real selves. It is possible to meditate while scrubbing your kitchen floor. The definition of meditation is removing your focus from the outside world. Scrubbing your floor isn’t something you have to pay great attention to, so you can go on auto-pilot mode with your Swiffer mop and go within instead. In that case you’re doing more than distracting, you’re meditating. If you can’t get to the meditation phase, then distract yourself with your Swiffer mop. That works too. And once again you get a great outcome – a clean floor! Bonus!
Just as the ADD mind gets easily sidetracked by, “There’s a squirrel,” use the same distraction technique in reverse to re-focus. You saw the squirrel, now do a sleight of hand maneuver by tricking your mind back to center. Don’t linger on the squirrel, come back to your work or your chores or whatever it is you’re doing.
Once you start working with your mind you see how easily it can be re-directed. It really is a toddler who just needs some focus.