How to Focus
"The world only tolerates one change at a time ... Nothing is impossible, Mr. Angier, what you want is simply expensive." ~ Nikola Tesla, The Prestige
I suppose I could have titled this article, "How to Improve Your Focus," or "Reflections on Improving Focus," or even about improving productivity, but I liked the brevity of what I ultimately decided upon. It also serves to reinforce in my mind (and yours) the idea that this is a step-by-step guide of sorts, which such reinforcement actually plays a part in the solution, as does the illusion of knowing what you're doing, even if you don't. All that will become relevant later. The hardest part is really in getting started.
Well-begun is half done, as the saying goes.
Likewise, I had searched for a number of thumbnails to use for this piece. I came across many more majestic ones, but something about the expression on Korra's face really called to me. That's the girl in the image, if you couldn't tell. The sense of frustration and anger, being battered and abused by the world, all while stuck inside a prison, feeling powerless, not knowing what else to do, not really having anything else to do, and so she's forced to sit there and focus on self-reflection until she comes up with a solution to her problem.
In Legend of Korra, the eponymous main character is a girl of action and adventure, easily distracted by all the myriad novelties and dangers that surround her. All the hits to her dopaminurgic centers, causing her to lose focus and become sidetracked. Is it any wonder, then, that the girl with the fiery spirit gains a fiery temper when tethered down and made to focus?
You might even say I'm drifting a bit as I write this article, but that's ok. The most important thing is that I'm writing it. I can always go back and change it later if I have to; and truth be told, I posted it a day after I started, so the timing is a little off, but we'll just pretend that didn't happen. It'll be our little secret.
Focus and discipline are a problem you probably suffer from, am I right?
Of course, you wouldn't be reading this article if you already knew how to focus. You'd be off doing whatever thing you're supposed to be doing instead. Maybe that thing that you should be doing right now, in fact, instead of reading this article? You know what I'm talking about. If that is the case, might I suggest you stop reading, go do that thing, and then come back to finish later so you don't create more problems for yourself? No, really. I don't want you to get in trouble, you can return to this later.
It'll still be here when you get back. I promise.
Oh, you're back? Cool. Welcome back. Assuming you actually have some down time to work on self-improvement, you might notice that what I just did there was to act as sort of a life coach. To snap you out of the hypnotic spell you succumbed to in the course of reading this article. I bet you didn't even realize reading was a form of hypnosis, did you? Yet look how focused you are right now. It wasn't until I broke the fourth wall and called your attention to the fact that you were reading instead of doing something else that you became aware of it. Hopefully you listened and that disruption got you back on track in an immediate sense, but now you're probably wondering how to take that and internalize it, since I can't always be there to whisper in your ear anytime you start to wander off.
Trust me, I know it's really hard.
It's sort of a tragic irony that I've always had an easier time helping others solve their problems than I have in helping myself. Focus and self-discipline are something I struggle with too. A Holy Grail of skills I wish I had that would make everything a lot easier - that and having an eidetic memory. Man, I'd kill for one of those! In some sense, it probably makes what I have to say more credible than someone who might tell they have the answer to developing focus, but have never really known the struggle. I can relate to what you're going through better than they can because I feel your pain. That said, it's also a double-edged sword.
Hopefully the honesty and forthrightness makes up for your initial skepticism.
While I can't claim to have completely overcome the problem myself in any permanent way, the cold hard truth is there may not actually be one short of better technology, and the best anyone can do - or the best I can do in this case, at least - is share with you some tricks and tips that I've come across that make things just a little bit better. I get that may sound like the worst sales pitch in the world, but by the end of this article, you'll see why it's not.
And in a way, writing this article is just as much a reminder to myself,
as it is a lesson for you in how I've learned to deal with it.
You might think that's a bad strategy listening to me. That it'd be better to go and learn from someone who's already got it all figured out, but again the truth is none of us really has it all figured out. We're all struggling in our own way. We're all imperfect humans. Even the best of the best. Just look at Tony Robbins and how he had to apologize to the #MeToo movement, even though he did nothing wrong.
Some people are clearly in a better position than others, holistically-speaking, but each person is unique and so no one solution will work for everyone. This is where systems-thinking helps and the idea of moving in a direction of general improvement rather than having specific goals. You can think of it like an AA meeting in which we're pretty much all screwed up in some way; but through mutual support, maybe we can help each other reach a better place than where we are currently.
As a friend of mine so eloquently put it once:
"The eyes are the window to the soul, and just as you can't see your own eyes without a mirror, neither can you see see your own soul without it being reflected in other people. We need others to be a mirror for our hearts so we can see ourselves fully."
Something like that. In this case, I'm a cracked and fogged mirror with pieces missing. I'm not perfect, but you can still make use of me and what I have to say. Well enough to get to a better place than where you are now, and in the end, whatever works and gets the job done is all that really matters.
Writing this article is both a goal and a system. It's a goal in that there's a very clear, narrowly-defined objective, but it's also a system in that it will be there for me to return to and read later if I ever find myself in need of a refresher. In teaching you, I'm also teaching myself.
I'm sure you've heard sayings to that effect. That you learn and gain mastery of a subject through teaching it to others, rather than being a master first and then teaching.
You can think of it like a mental trick I'm playing on myself. If I find myself losing focus, I can look back and see that, "Oh, right, I'm already an expert in how to focus and I even taught others how to do it. I know that because I wrote an article on the subject." Then, because I've put it out there in the world for all to see, a part of me feels pressure to rise to the occasion and effectively embody that role. So someone like Ben Shapiro, for instance, doesn't see himself as a leader - in fact, the idea really terrifies him, since he knows his own fallibility - yet many people look to him for advice and guidance. If you asked him, I'm sure he would tell you he's just trying to do the best he can like anyone else, and yet the social force behind him drives him to succeed because, in a way, he has no other option.
That shift in mindset - the sort of "fake it 'til you make it" mindset - then becomes the seed, from which grows a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, either way you're right." ~ Henry Ford
Imagine my profound elation when, this past summer, I happened upon Jordan Peterson's lecture series on the psychology of personality, and found that there was an entire video dedicated to the subject of trait-conscientiousness, which breaks down into orderliness and industriousness. Two things I really needed more of in my life.
I thought, "Wow! Maybe I'll finally find some answers!"
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I took an online Big 5 test and found myself having a really low score in trait-conscientiousness (35%). Imagine, then, how much worse I felt upon learning that not only was trait-conscientiousness a key factor in determining success in life, but that it was largely genetic and scientists don't really know how to fix it. Suffice to say, I was devastated. It was like a sign from the universe that I was forever destined from birth to be a failure, on top of all the postmodernist bullshit but actually backed by hard science.
Knowing that, you can begin to see why I was feeling really depressed for quite some time.
To make matters worse, none of my other teachers had much else of value to add. Let me amend that just a tad. They had a few suggestions, and I'm profoundly grateful to them for that, of course; but it mostly felt like the narrow, pessimistic-sounding field of options you might expect to hear from your oncologist after learning that you have cancer. In some sense, I'd almost prefer being diagnosed with cancer over being told you're genetically predisposed to fail at life, since at least there are known cures for cancer to be explored; and even if there weren't, the news of imminent death is often a profoundly motivating force in people's lives. Not so much for failure. In fact, systemic failure could well be worse than death, which is why so many people are given over to thoughts of suicide.
Maybe our money's going to the wrong cause. If we could cure low trait-conscientiousness, who knows what other solutions to problems we'd find as a result?
That's not to say all hope is lost. It's just really expensive in terms of opportunity costs for someone like me, and it may be for you as well - those of us to whom conscientiousness doesn't necessary come easily or naturally. We have to really dig in and claw extra hard and climb back up that icy slope, which is twice as bad since we're basically fighting for the ability to fight, which in itself is really expensive, let alone the price you still have to pay once you get that opportunity.
Hence why I chose the opening quote that I did.
Incidentally, it's why I have compassion for postmodernists. I can relate to what they say at a visceral level, but it's still something that I think can - and in fact needs to be - transcended on an individual basis, which was Tony Robbin's message to the #MeToo people.
So what tools do we have?
Scott Adams suggests positive thinking coupled with the systems filter. I talked about that already with the "fake it 'til you make it" attitude, and in more depth in my review of his books. Jordan Peterson says you should start small and build out - clean your room, as he puts it, both literally and figuratively. And interestingly enough, in a rather strange sort of synchronicity, I was actually listening to Scott talk about Tony Robbins on Periscope while cleaning my room right before I hopped on here to write this article after, what, a straight week of not blogging?
The biggest hurdle to developing focus that I've discovered is in learning to be mindful of what you're doing at all times. To catch yourself in the act of not focusing, and to condition yourself to say, "Stop!" and then to listen when you do. To recognize the need for a course correction and to then follow through with the correction. That's really all focus is. It's a boss looking over your shoulder. What you ultimately want to do is internalize what I'm here externalizing for you; and in turn what I'm externalizing for myself, for reasons I've already stated.
That's really the hardest part, is applying the breaks so you can begin to change direction. Once you've done that, the rest is easy. The same momentum that derailed you will now serve your cause.
Case in point, earlier today, I spent a bunch of time just watching various YouTube videos. Not the most productive thing I could have been doing. I then got a notification on my phone that said Scott Adams was doing a livestream. That broke my momentum and forced me to change what I was doing, because I wanted to watch his stream more than some random video about nothing. I had already conditioned myself to want that over the course of many months.
As I said, I then proceeded to go about cleaning my room while I listened to him talk, only stopping here and there to add a comment - the most relevant one he actually answered, as it was about developing self-efficacy when you're not particularly industrious.
While his specific advice on that topic was frankly as depressingly disappointing as everyone else's on the subject (and I don't blame him for that, since no one else knows any better), it at least got me thinking. It started building momentum in a more positive direction, which is important. As long as you're at least moving in the right direction, you'll get to where you wanna be eventually.
One technique I've used for a while now to help me stay on task that I've found somewhat comforting is what I like to call productive procrastination. It's exactly what it sounds like.
Essentially, the key to productive procrastination is that, even though you're avoiding doing the thing you really ought to be doing in the moment (in my case, writing on my blog), whatever you're doing instead is at least still useful in some tangential way. It's something that benefits another area of your life, even in a small way, and frees up resources, time, and energy. In this case, cleaning my room and doing laundry were a form of productive procrastination. It's procrastination in that it's not writing, but it's productive in that I had to do that at some point anyway and so I feel a lot better about myself after crossing things off my to-do list.
That feeling is empowering and builds momentum, allowing me to do other productive things.
There have been times when I would clean half the house just to avoid writing, whereas if you told me to go and do just a small amount of cleaning, I'd have fought you tooth and nail on it. You couldn't have paid me to do it, that's how much I didn't want to do it; yet I find that, when I'm engaged in productive procrastination, I will tend to go above and beyond the call of duty, hyper-focusing on that one task until I eventually get bored and move onto something else. The same works in reverse, so there have been times when I've sequestered myself in my room for hours on end researching and writing just to avoid doing housework.
Again, it's not ideal by any stretch. It's very clearly not helping me do the thing I really need to be doing, but it's nonetheless generating value for me and helping me build momentum and hack my life towards some measure of success that I can then build upon, because something is at least better than nothing.
This is fundamentally the same philosophy behind Peterson's "clean your room" system.
Scott's Periscope was a form of productive procrastination, as he himself admitted, since he was doing it because he enjoyed it, in lieu of the work he actually gets paid to do.
You may notice Scott will sometimes do Periscopes while folding laundry. That's not quite productive procrastination - unless him folding laundry is also procrastinating on something else more important he should be doing in the moment - though it is a form of subtle genius and life hacking that makes better use of his time and adds value to his life.
You might say it looks like multi-tasking, but it's not quite that either, for reasons I'll get into later. It's something else for which I don't yet have a word. Juggling or automation come close.
In any event, the point is that any productivity is better than none, since it's all gotta get done eventually. So unless it's something that has to be done urgently, there's no pressing need to do it in any particular order and you can just switch out one for the other as you feel like it, using productive procrastination as an excuse - a fake because, if you will - to take a break without the guilt of doing unproductive procrastination like watching porn or playing video games.
Not that I have a problem with either of those things implicitly, mind you.
Time spent wasting time is not time wasted, so long as it's to recharge.
After the stream ended, but before I brought my clothes to the laundry, I had to go and pee. Yes, I know, TMI, but in this case, it's an instructive detail. It broke my momentum again, forcing me to stop and think about what I was doing.
Some of the best ideas come when you're in the bathroom, after all. It's because, like Korra trapped in her little metal box, you're also trapped in a little box with nothing else to do but think and be in the moment until your body's finished doing what it's gotta do. Something you can't really expedite in most cases. Sometimes involuntary routines are actually the best way to refocus you like that.
Breaking your momentum long enough to issue a course correction is the hardest part, as I said. It takes a mindset of mindfulness and being present in the moment at all times.
Obviously, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
Being able to not only formulate but control those breaks in momentum is a powerful thing. Jordan says to plan a schedule and stick to it. Honestly, even just doing that is difficult in itself, since it takes discipline to even form a basic list or schedule and stick to it. If it's one you set yourself, it's easy to fall into the trap of justifying that you don't have to do it, because you're just doing it for you and who really cares if you fail? It's not like it hurts anyone else, so you can rationalize you don't really need it.
That's the subtle trap I often find myself falling into: a lack of self-love and self-care.
In my case, for instance, I'm moderately high in trait-agreeableness (53%). So, agreeable enough that I can be a team player when I need to be. Someone who won't cause trouble at work or at parties, but disagreeable enough to be a political rebel and an independent thinker. Someone who can't be easily manipulated or controlled. That's probably the best I could hope for on that axis, to be honest.
For a long time, I always wondered why I had such an easy time staying focused and disciplined at any of my day jobs, or moving heaven and earth for people I really cared about, but I just couldn't do it for myself, letting things go until they got to such a point I finally say, "Fuck it! Ya know what? This is so bad, it bothers even me enough to do something about it," and then I go fix whatever it is so thoroughly and completely that I don't have to think about it ever again, or at least not for a long time.
I think the trait-agreeableness is the answer. The idea that I can be perfectly industrious and orderly when my actions start to negatively affect others.
Those of you who struggle with focus, that might be something to consider. How can you tie the needs of others to what you're doing, even if it might not otherwise bother you, so as to add that extra level of social pressure to drive you to finish what you start and become an overall better human being? Do you have a boss, a coworker, a friend, a spouse, a family member, a teacher, a life coach, or whomever, that may be higher in trait-conscientiousness than you such that they can reliably give you a much-needed kick in the ass when you need it?
Maybe they don't even have to be that disciplined, per say. Just someone whose opinion of your own success or failure matters to you enough to get you to actually change your behavior. A Ben Affleck to your Matt Damon, a la Good Will Hunting, as it were:
It doesn't even have to be a specific or perpetual thing, either. Just knowing there are consequences to your actions can be enough. So, in any of my jobs, I valued not garnering the stigma that came from being fired, so that motivated me to show up and do what needed to be done. The promise of reward in the form of money to eat and live and take care of my loved ones helped as well, such that now I had a heaven to pull me and a hell to push me.
Working daily on my book and my blog becomes easy when I remember others will be influenced by it.
Later today, I'll be going to yoga with my mom and then to a DnD session with friends and family. Both are situations that involve other people depending on me in some small way, even if it's just showing up.
Thus, while in that mindset, momentum basically takes care of itself.
"For every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and ... SNAP! the job's a game." ~ Mary Poppins
Maybe you're in a boring job that you hate. Trust me, I know that feeling as well. Each situation is different, but there is usually something you can do to make it less monotonous.
Of the Big 5 traits, my highest is trait-openness (70%), meaning I crave ideation and creative endeavors. I need constant stimulation and novelty to feel satisfied. Small wonder I went to art school or became a fantasy author, or why I love stories that make me think deeply about things.
In my article Stop Lying to Yourself, I talked about how I would listen to music or podcasts while at work or on my daily commute. In my current day job, I'll usually open Spotify and put on Rubin Report or Feminist Frequency Radio and just binge listen to that when performing some monotonous task, with some music in between to prevent intellectual overload. When those run out, there are plenty of other things I can listen to instead. This kills two birds with one stone in that it saves me the time I would have otherwise spent listening to them while at home (a form of productive procrastination), and it actually makes me smarter in that I'm effectively getting paid to improve myself, versus what my coworkers do which is just listen to music mostly. So even that small change is giving me a slight edge.
Productive procrastination coupled with reward-punishment. The punishment in this case is sitting there bored out of my skull while falling behind.
Maybe you have a job in which you sit through meetings that make you wanna gouge your eyes out, or at least fall asleep. Can you think of a way to become a more active participant in the meeting? To offer creative suggestions for how to make that time more enjoyable? Maybe better visuals and audio during presentations to add a bit of stimulation.
Maybe start off each meeting with a bit of entertainment just to lighten the mood.
To some degree, we all have to do things we don't like at some point, and we get distracted because our brains know we don't like doing them.
In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams provides a number of suggestions for using systems thinking to turn things you don't wanna do into things that you do. For instance, joining a fun team sport as a way of getting exercise. As I said before, I'm going to yoga later, which is a fun team sport that is surprisingly tough on the body, but between the novelty of it and the fact I'm doing it with other people keeps me motivated to power through it. Even when it's hard, when my abs are burning, I feel a sense of competitiveness to not be the one to bitch out. So I suffer through the pain to avoid embarrassment.
That, coupled with the guided instructions of our trainer is usually enough momentum to carry me through until eventually I build up the strength that it becomes easier and something I would rather do more of because it's easy and enjoyable. Once it becomes habit, it'll be easier to continue doing it than not and so staying focused on the task won't be an issue.
I'd mentioned before the idea of multitasking. You might think my listening to podcasts while I work is multitasking. It's not. Nor would listening to them while you're at the gym. In the case of the former, the podcasts are meant to keep my mind alert and to avoid falling into screen hypnosis.
Having to periodically look down to check my phone gives my eyes and my brain a chance to rest and recalibrate. Besides the content of the talks themselves, the brief optical and physical stimulation breaks up the monotony with fresh morsels of novelty. You my be tempted to think this takes time away from my work, but I've found it actually makes me more productive and more efficient, and the numbers I get from my supervisors reflect that. I'd argue this is because I'm not nodding off in a bored stupor while at work, but am alert and actively engaged. The tasks themselves at my job tend to be fairly low-skilled and you can develop muscle memory for them fairly quickly, so it becomes something of an automated process running in the background.
You might think that's multitasking, and I suppose in a colloquial sense it is, but technically it's not, and I wanna break you out of the habit of thinking that it is. What's actually happening is my mind is switching back and forth, alternating between the two tasks at a rapid rate such that I can juggle both at the same time.
People talk about multitasking. I'm here to tell you, there's no such thing.
Multitasking is a myth. Not only does the brain not work that way, it'd actually be less efficient if it did, because you're dividing your energy among multiple tasks at the same instead of just completely focusing on them one at a time in series.
You see robots do this in automated assembly lines. First they do one thing, then another, then another in rapid succession. They may wear down but they don't get tired and have to eat, sleep, or use the bathroom. They don't bored or distracted, because they lack creativity and trait-openness. They are purely orderly, industrious servants, which is why we like them so much. They do the jobs we ask without question, repeatedly and reliably, unlike humans. Even a robot can't multitask, so what makes you think we Moist Robots could?
There may be some people with more or less mental energy than others, and maybe those with more can get more done, just as a robot can have more processing power, and maybe that's what high trait-conscientiousness is; but otherwise our minds can only do one thing at a time.
Think of it like a router. A router works to send signals to multiple computers "at the same time." I put that in air quotes because it doesn't really do that, it only appears to do that. In actuality, it just switches back and forth really quickly from one computer to the next. It's just that the time intervals we're talking about are negligible to our human perception.
If you slowed it down, you'd see the router is only switching from one computer to the next. Sending out one signal at a time, not multiple ones. To get multiple signals, you'd been multiple origins and multiple lines.
You can think of a set of train tracks. The train can only be on one track at a time. You have switches that divert the trains onto different tracks and the switches can only be in one position at any given time. But the trains and the switches are all moving at ludicrous speed so it appears they're servicing a bunch of trains on all the tracks simultaneously.
Maybe you've seen those time-lapse videos of traffic, especially at night, where the cars all seem to blur together and pass through one another:
Logically, we know the cars only exist in one place, on one lane at a time, and can't phase through each other. They're just changing lanes faster than our perception will allow, yet the system is actually most efficient that way and we'd see endless crashes and congestion if it were otherwise.
Our minds work the same way.
People who are good at multitasking are really just good at switching back and forth between a number of individual tasks in series. They hyper focus on one, doing just enough to give the process a boost and then letting momentum take over before switching to the next. They are essentially juggling, and like a juggler, you're not handling every ball at the same time. You're only handling the most urgent ones, throwing them back in the air, letting the laws of physics automate the process.
Being able to automate processes is another useful tool for helping you focus, or to at least get more done in the same amount of time.
So, returning to my story from earlier, I had just finished the stream when I had to pee, and I took my laundry with me to the laundry room. Now, I could have just gone and used the bathroom right away and then come out and started the wash afterwards, and for the amount of time it took, that wouldn't have been so bad. Instead, what I actually did was load up the washer first before using the bathroom, such that I saved myself a few seconds, letting the clothes cycle through the wash at the same time as I was doing something else.
It may seem like a trivial amount of time, and in this case it was, but it serves to illustrate the point of prioritizing tasks in such a way that you have more than one working at the same time on auto-pilot when you yourself only have the ability to focus on one at any give time.
This is the same concept of juggling that I spoke of earlier. You can keep multiple balls in the air because you don't care about them, you only care about the ones falling past you.
We only have so much time in a day, and it's hugely motivating and empowering to get as much done in that short amount of time as we can manage. The more we're able to do, the more time we have to do other things, which is how humans evolved from being subsistence hunter-gatherers to being able to Netflix and Chill. It makes us more successful, which in both the marketplace and in our interpersonal relations becomes a highly desired quality and people will throw good things your way.
If you do a whole bunch of these micro-routines throughout the day, they begin to add up. A good general rule might be to divide your tasks up into two categories: those that can be automated and those that require your constant attention; and by automated, I don't just mean with machines. You can delegate tasks to other people, such as your coworkers, employees, or even to third parties through outsourcing. Maybe automated just means letting the laws of physics do the work for you, as in the case of cooking something on the stove.
Once you've sorted these tasks, then go through the automated ones and sort them by the amount of time it will take to do each one and begin with the one that will take the longest and then work backwards to the shortest.
So let's say you have to wash the dishes, mow the lawn, and do the laundry.
The smart approach is to do the laundry first, or at least get it started, since that will take the longest. Just throw it in the washer and let the machine do the work for you. Now you don't have to sit around for an hour waiting for it to be done. Then, you move onto the dishes. Maybe you have a dishwasher and can automate them as well. Ain't technology great? Or maybe you wash them by hand and let the sit in the dish drain to air dry, which is itself an automated process. Maybe you have a lot of dishes to do, more than one load, and so you can do one set, stop, go mow the lawn - which is the only task you have to actually deliberately focus on - and then by the time that's done, the laundry is ready to be changed over. So you change that over and come back upstairs to find the dishes are dry. Those get put away and you finish washing the rest.
Now, you have about a half hour of free time to do something else while you wait for the laundry and the dishes to dry. Well done!
Maybe that only took two hours, and once those are finished, you then have the whole rest of the day.
Conversely, if you started with mowing the lawn, you are wasting your time and that's going to come back to bite you in the ass as you run around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to get all this stuff done. It will still take the same amount of time for the automated processes of dishes and laundry to finish their cycles, but because you haven't scheduled them intelligently, you have to divert some of your focus on those tasks instead of moving on with your day. That creates extra stress. They are still ahead of you, so rather than the whole thing taking two hours, it takes four hours.
Better to get those things out of your headspace and be done with them.
I get that, in this particular case, stuff like dishes and laundry are not hugely important tasks. You can go play video games or work on your craft while the machines take care of them just as easily as if you were mowing the lawn and the same principle applies. This was more-so just an example. A proof of concept, if you will.
That said, there may be other instances when timing is important. Certain professions, like cooking or logistics or management, demand exact precision and an ability to prioritize tasks in an efficient way. If you can't do that, you're going to run into all sorts of problems, creating extra stress for yourself on top of whatever will hit you in the ordinary course of things. Being stressed is a good way to lose focus, and if you can't focus in a high-stress environment, systemic failure ensues. People don't get what they ordered, or in some cases they wind up dead.
Nobody wants that.
Obviously, this doesn't just apply to work, but to life in general. Time and time again, I have found myself in situations where opportunities to improve my efficiency arose. Sometimes I made intelligent choices, sometimes I didn't, and my current life is the aggregate result of those choices, for better or worse.
Sometimes I chose to work on my writing, sometimes I chose to watch YouTube videos.
For all the time I might have squandered, my decision to listen to podcasts instead of music was a very intelligent choice. Music might have been good for getting me into a particular mood, or as a break now and then, but I have listened to well-over a thousand hours of them by this point. That's a thousand hours I've reclaimed, just by choosing to squeeze it into other parts of my life that were otherwise on auto-pilot.
And considering it takes about ten-thousand hours to master something, I can safely say I'm well-ahead of those who didn't do that.
It's something I was going to do anyway, I may as well squeeze it in where I can, leaving the rest of that time available for other things. If I'm just standing in line or stuck in traffic, if I'm standing at a counter waiting for something, that's time that is otherwise being wasted that I wish I had elsewhere. It's an opportunity to improve myself and to make up for the fact that I got distracted. Whether it's at work, on your commute, or at home, we all have ways of making up for that lost time and drawing out opportunities to refocus and get back on track. To remove one more excuse for not focusing. That from someone who's genetically predisposed to suffer from low trait-conscientiousness.
Do you understand what that means?
It means I'm biologically disabled. I have every reason to sit here and bitch and moan about fairness, about ablism privilege, because I'm physiologically predestined to fail - and admittedly, there are times when I do that privately - yet in spite of that, I will succeed because I will myself to succeed. Let me say that again.
I will succeed because I will myself to succeed.
To focus on the part that isn't driven by biology. The part I can affect. As best I can, I choose to pour what limited willpower I have into automated systems that compensate for that disability and which will ultimately pay dividends over time, because I'm making directional progress. Maybe not as much as I'd like, maybe not as much as other people but it's something. If I can be better today than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow, that is me moving in the right direction.
So what about you? Would you like an extra ten minutes, an hour, a thousand hours to do with as you want? What would you do with it if you had it?
It starts with a choice. You can choose right now to focus on what you want or not. To be mindful of what it is you're doing in the moment. I know that's hard. You'll fail all the time. I fail all the time at it too. You're only human and #ItsOkToBeHuman. It's a process. You will get better at it over time if you work on it. Trust me. I know. You can come back and reread this as many times as you need to, and I won't think any less of you for it.
At the same time you're being mindful of what you're doing moment to moment, think about ways to give yourself external reminders. To remove your willpower from the equation. To disrupt our momentum when it inevitably leads you astray.
Think about how to prioritize whatever it is you're doing, and to automate what you can. Be aware of little moments throughout your day here and there. How to shave seconds and improve your overall efficiency. And if you have to procrastinate, at least make it something productive so you don't feel like a total failure. Start small. Work with what you've got, so that by the time you lay your head on the pillow, you can honestly say you did your best and left yourself in a better position today than when you woke up.
Now that I've inspired you, take that fuel and go work on the thing you've been putting off to read this.
Go get 'em, tiger. You got this. I believe in you. 38D