How to Stop Your Mind from Wandering
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Concentration is challenging even when you’re at your best. When you struggle to concentrate, you can’t focus on tasks that need to be completed, you are easily distracted, your self-esteem erodes and you waste precious time. Solving problems becomes impossible, conversations become disjointed and teamwork is impaired.
How often would you say your mind wanders in a typical day? More than 10? More than 100? More than 1,000? When you’re stressed, your mind is especially prone to wondering. It all boils down to what’s referred to as time stress. If you tend to worry about the piles of tasks and activities you have on your plate, or that you won’t live up to your potential, you’re experiencing time stress. These time-related thoughts all cause your mind to wander and your stress levels to rise. This isn’t how you want to live your life and guide your team. You want to be your best self.
As you wave away stress, your first finger is your cognitive finger. Curious? Engage me to conduct a stress workshop for you and your team. In the meanwhile, here are three steps that you can apply whenever you find yourself struggling to concentrate.
1. Pay attention to where your mind wanders
Our mind is easily distracted. Like a kid in a candy shop, it moves freely from one thing to another, often without constraints. The next time your mind starts to wander, take a journey and go with it. Where is it going? Consider pulling out a notebook and writing it down, and then take action. If your mind wanders to a passion area, maybe it’s time to explore a new job. If your mind wanders to a difficult relationship with a colleague, maybe it’s time to confront the situation. If your mind is wandering to a beach on a tropical island, maybe you're overdue for a vacation. The most important thing is to act. You can start applying for new positions and roles. You can confront your coworkers. You can schedule a vacation. You can take control of the situation. Learn more about how to do this in my book, Stress-Less Leadership.
2. Do nothing
Maya Angelou once said, “Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” Everyone needs to stop and take breaks. Otherwise, your cortisol levels and stress levels to go into overdrive. Taking breaks is critical to restoring your perception of time and reducing your stress levels. Research has shown that when workers take short, frequent breaks, they report higher levels of job satisfaction, reduced exhaustion and greater willingness to go beyond their assigned tasks. Research has even shown that your neurons become more resistant to diseases such as epilepsy and dementia when you allow for a period of rest after stressful events. You need time to recharge. So, set aside 10-15 minutes to just do nothing. It doesn’t take long to recharge. You should try to find a quiet space or put in earplugs, turn off all your electronics, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Here’s a simple activity to try. First, count to 10 as you inhale. Then, count to 10 as you exhale. You should repeat this for 10 or more minutes. Let your stress float away. The best part? You can do this at any point in your day. You'll find that even 10 minutes can put you in a completely different state of mind. It’s much more rewarding and productive than browsing your social media channels.
As a leader, you’re pulled in a million different directions. It’s easy to fill up your day with non-critical tasks and let your performance suffer, but anyone can learn effective delegation skills. You should start by conducting an audit of all the people around you, their responsibilities and their capabilities. Try to keep a running list. Then, map out all of your more time-consuming work that’s not absolutely critical to your success. You should think carefully about how you can delegate this work to your colleagues. Your colleagues will thank you for not just shoveling work on them. It’s important to spend time training them or finding someone to train them. And you’ll need to be clear about goals and expectations. You'll need to make sure they are committed to taking on the task and that it helps them round out their skills. When you conquer the art of delegation, you’ll find your stress levels quickly decrease.
As a leader, you need your cognitive skills to perform your job well and get ahead. If you’re not careful, stress can take a toll on your focus, memory and career. When you experience high levels of stress, your cognitive resources are so depleted that you are no longer able to make logical and sound decisions. You don’t want this to happen. So use the three steps I’ve outlined and remain focused. You’ll be more productive, develop better relationships with your colleagues, be more relaxed and be an even better leader. Good luck! And most importantly, take good care of yourself.