Pay It Forward (or ‘How To Make The World A Better Place’)


“Do a good deed” has been on my ‘to do’ list for a few days. So I finally decided that yesterday was going to be the day I actually put a big check mark next to it. I’d spent the previous evening trying to think of things to do, and had come up short. (It’s a sad day when you can’t even think of something nice to do for another human being.) As it turned out, Facebook was my friend.

I logged in yesterday morning to have a quick look before heading off to work. Lo and behold, the very first update I saw was from a group I joined recently. One of the other members was posting some items she was selling off in order to raise funds for her autistic son. She wrote about how difficult she was finding it because she really loved some of the items she was offering but, obviously, she loved her son more.

So there it was – the universe was presenting me with an opportunity to do good. I got her PayPal address and send a small contribution to her. That way she would have the money, but would also still have the items. And I left for work feeling mighty pleased with myself.

The reason I’m sharing the story is not to gloat, but hopefully to inspire someone else to do a good deed too. Over the years, there have been many people who have made my day with a kind gesture or a genuine compliment. Those people will never know how grateful I was, and how their words and actions stayed with me. If I can do the same for someone else, all the better!

You know that saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world”? That’s what good deeds are all about. If you want the world to be a better place (and, really, who wouldn’t want that), you have to start by being a better person. You have no idea how much your actions could affect another person. When you smile at a stranger, or make conversation with a cashier, you could be impacting on that person’s life much more than you know.

Pay It Forward

Maybe that person was going through a tough time – perhaps even feeling utter despair – and your smile was the brightness they needed to see. Maybe that person was just having a bad day and felt unloved and unappreciated, and your casual question about how they were doing made them feel acknowledged. Maybe that person had just moved to this new place and was feeling lost and alone, and your offer to help them with directions made them feel secure and confident.

Once you brighten someone’s day, they’re much more likely to brighten someone else’s… and on and on it goes.

Has anyone ever said or done something that made you happy? Why not pay it forward? It’ll make both you and the recipient feel great. Double win!

So go ahead, do a good deed today. Then come back here and tell us about it in a comment.


Have you got tips for things people can do to ‘pay it forward’? I’d love to hear them!



6 Ways to Ensure Success when Goal-Setting


How are those resolutions holding up? If you’re doing well, then congratulations, you can look away now. Nothing to see here. 😉

If you’re struggling, or have given up completely, then keep reading!

Let’s look at WHY you’re having trouble. Is it because you didn’t set SMART goals? Maybe you weren’t specific enough about what you wanted, or there was no way for you to measure your level of success. How can you lose weight, for example, if you don’t know what your starting weight is, and what your goal weight is?

Maybe your resolution wasn’t achievable or realistic. For me, I find it hard to hit goals that require a lot of time investment, or a strict schedule. I have an 8-month-old daughter, so promising myself I’ll work out for half an hour every day or that I’ll write a blog post every day just isn’t realistic. BUT I can promise myself that I’ll be more active around the house, and that I’ll write at least one blog post a week. Those are things that are much more do-able and flexible, while still pushing me to get things done.

Maybe you didn’t set a timetable or time limit for yourself. When do you want to have achieved your goal? Or how often do you want to do something?

Maybe you set too stringent a time limit.

Maybe you gave up too soon.

Source: thes4p.com

Source: thes4p.com



Here are some helpful hints and tricks to get you back on track:


1. As mentioned above, set SMART goals.

Aiming to get fit isn’t SMART, but aiming to take up one new sport and committing to attending training at least once a week certainly is.


2. Be flexible.

Life has a tendency to throw curveballs every now and again. By all means promise yourself a workout every morning, but also recognise that, sometimes, that workout might have to wait until later in the day. Or later in the week.

This isn’t an excuse to procrastinate, but rather a reminder to roll with the punches.


3. Be patient.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are good habits. Your house is unlikely to be immaculate after one day of cleaning (but I take my hat off to you if it is). Slow and steady wins the race.


4. Start small.

By all means, dream big. But don’t expect to get there in one big bound. You’re not going to be perfectly organized overnight. Start by buying a calendar or planner and filling in important dates and appointments.

Want to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day? Start by just drinking one glass a day until you get used to it. (If this really is one of your goals, you’ll want to read this.)

Leo Babauta talks about it in this article on habits, which is well worth a read (as is the whole site).


5. Do what you WANT to do, not what you think you SHOULD do.

Recently, I saw a link online advertising the hundred books I “had” to read in 2014. No thank you. I’ll read the type of books I want to read, and I’ll be reading them at my own pace for pleasure, not racing to get through chapters just to tick off two “must reads” a week.

(Believe me, I learned this the hard way after resolving to read “War & Peace” in 2012. I did it because it’s “a classic” and therefore I felt obliged to read it – like I’d somehow be considered stupid if I didn’t. I read it, but I hated pretty much every second of it. Lesson learned.)

If you feel like you’ve resolved to do something that, on reflection, you really don’t want to do, just drop it. Re-examine your resolutions and see if there’s a “should” in there anywhere. Either turn it into a “want” or delete it.


6. Go easy on yourself.

One fall is not failure. If you gave up every time something was hard, or every time you hit an obstacle, you’d never succeed at anything. If artists gave up with every slip of the paintbrush, we wouldn’t have nearly as many masterpieces. If authors gave up when they received a rejection letter, we wouldn’t have nearly as many great, bestselling novels. If babies gave up as soon as they fell over, none of us would be walking!

(Read this post if you still need convincing.)


Remember, no matter how little you think you’ve achieved, you’re still farther along than when you started. When I did Jillian Michaels’ exercise regime ’30 Day Shred’, the only thing that got me through it was not wanting to have to start all over again. I did it every day for 30 days, because there was no way in hell I was going to go back and re-do any of them. 😉


You’re one day closer than you were yesterday. And tomorrow you’ll be one day closer again.


Do you really want to have to pick up and start all over again, or are you going to pull up your socks and make it a little bit further?


Runners don’t go back to the starting line every time they feel out of breath, trip up, or get cramp. They take a breather, and then keep on going.


Are you going to fall and use it as an excuse to fail, or are you going to get back up and finish anyway?


Overcome obstacles to keep your New Year’s resolutions – climbing back on the wagon

Source: motivationalmemo.com


So, did you start yesterday all clean and fresh and eager to get fit, get healthy, and generally take control of your life?

Are you still on a high or is the motivation already starting to wane?

If it’s the former, well done you! Small successes spur us on to achieve bigger and better things.

If it’s the latter, fear not. All is not lost! I once read that one chocolate isn’t the end of a diet. I think that’s so true. Just because you slip up doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It just means you’ve hit a dip in the road and it’s up to you whether you give up, curl up, and never try to see what’s over the horizon, or you crawl right out of it and keep on truckin’.


Source: freedigitalphotos.net (ID-100148181)

Let’s say you decided to give up smoking, but succumbed to one cigarette in a moment of weakness. Does that mean you failed? No, it means you’re human. Instead of telling yourself that you’re a smoker, understand that you’re a non-smoker who just had a tiny setback before moving on.

I don’t drink alcohol. Never have. But, do you think that if I’d had one drink, that I’d suddenly be classed as a drinker? Of course not! One drink wouldn’t make me a drinker, the same as one cigarette doesn’t make you a smoker. Yes, it could certainly be the start of a slippery slope, but an isolated incident doesn’t define you.


One bar of chocolate doesn’t make you unhealthy, and one missed workout doesn’t make you lazy or unfit.


But you have to be careful. One incident can lead to another, and another, and… pretty soon they’re no longer “isolated incidents”; they’re a habit. Once you smoke that first cigarette, it’s so much easier to smoke another. Once you eat that first piece of chocolate, it’s so much easier to eat another.

But you don’t have to! Recognise that you have a choice. Yes, it can be hard to recover from a slip-up. But “hard” doesn’t mean impossible. “Hard” doesn’t mean failure.

 

Source: thepostivepage.com

 

Of course, the best way to stick with your resolutions is to maintain control 100% of the time. After all, you certainly have control over that first stumble. It’s much easier just to not reach for that first piece of chocolate than it is not to reach for that second piece.

As Mathew Perry, self-confessed alcoholic, recently said, once he has one drink, he can’t stop having another and another. So how does he stay sober? He realizes that, while he may not have control over subsequent drinks, he has control over whether or not he allows himself that first one.


It’s much easier to say no all the time than it is to say no after having said yes once.


But, again, it’s not impossible. Falling off the wagon doesn’t mean you can never get back on. Obviously once you’re on, you should try to stay on, but a little tumble doesn’t mean you’ve been left behind forever. Dust yourself off, straighten yourself up, and get yourself back in the driving seat. (Maybe you just need to re-define or re-evaluate your goals. Click here to read about how to achieve almost anything you set your mind to.)

Do you seriously think one little slip-up makes you a failure? If Usain Bolt didn’t win one race, do you think that would detract from his success? Do you think it would mean he’d never win a never race again?

Do you think that one blow-out suddenly means you have to scrap the budget? Does one lie-in mean you’ll never get up early again? Does one day of neglecting the housework mean you’ll never have a clean dish again?

 

Confession corner: I wasn’t super productive yesterday. I normally start a new year on a buzz of adrenaline, and the day is spent cleaning, de-cluttering, eating healthy, and doing some form of exercise. This year? Not so much. I got a bit of cleaning done, but that was pretty much it. I just wasn’t feeling it. (Plus, having a baby to look after is pretty much a ‘get out of jail free’ card, don’t you think? 😉 )

But I’m not beating myself up about it. I know it doesn’t mean that the rest of my year is going to be unproductive. In fact, I’m already starting to get back on track today.

Hang in there! You’re doing great. Even just WANTING to change is commendable. Recognising that a certain thing hasn’t been working for you and identifying what you need to do to change it is the first step.


Taking one or two steps back doesn’t mean you’ll never complete your journey. Keep marching on!


So tell me, how are you going to make 2014 the best year yet?


How to achieve anything you set your mind to – the SMART way


So, it’s that time of year again – New Year’s resolutions. I used to start every year with the same goals – get fit, eat healthy foods, be better organised… And guess what? Like 99.9% of people who make resolutions, I failed. Miserably. Why? Because they weren’t SMART resolutions.

I had heard of the SMART way of setting goals while working in retail many years ago, but it meant nothing to me at the time. If I’d listened a bit more back then, I might not have wasted so much potential in the interim.


source: Shutterstock

source: Shutterstock



So how can you achieve pretty much anything you set your mind to?


You set SMART goals. That is, goals that are:

SPECIFIC
MEASUREABLE
ACHIEVABLE
REALISTIC
TIMELY

Let’s take the example of getting fit, which is one of the most popular resolutions people make every year. Does it fit the SMART criteria?


Is it specific?

Uh oh, a stumble at the first hurdle. Being “fit” means different things to different people, but I think it’s safe to say it will involve some form of exercise. How much? And what type? “Fit” to one person might mean being able to run a 5k race, but “fit” to an overweight chain-smoker might mean being able to climb a flight of stairs without gasping for breath.

Do you consider a yoga practitioner fit? Or someone who runs a marathon once a year? Or does your idea of “fit” involve bulging biceps? Figure out what “fit” means to you. Maybe it’s something as simple as being able to keep up with your kids.

Get specific about what you want.


Is it measureable?

Leading on from the above, how do you measure fitness? There is always room for improvement, so you need to define the point at which you will consider yourself fit. Is it when you can complete a series of yoga positions with ease? Is it when you can swim 50 laps of the pool without stopping?

Set a tangible target that, when hit, will tell you that you’ve reached your goal.


Is it achievable?

There’s no point giving yourself a goal of running a marathon if you’ve barely been off the couch. It’s OK to be positive and to set your sights a little higher than before, but it also needs to be well within the realms of possibility. A 5k race is much more achievable, while still stretching your abilities. Once that’s done, set your sights on a 10k. Once you’ve mastered that with relative ease, then perhaps consider a marathon.

If you’re unsure if something is achievable, set yourself a smaller goal and then build on it.

Building on success

Is it realistic?

Let’s say you want to get fit in order to climb Mount Everest. Sure, that’s quite specific, and yes, if you plant a flag on the peak, that’s a pretty good measurable indicator. It’s even an achievable goal, in theory. But is it realistic? You might start out climbing hills, and then increase the altitudes, but this goal will require a lot more than “getting fit”; This goal will require a lot of time and a LOT of money.

Climbing the local mountain range on weekends is one thing – taking several weeks off from work and family, and buying expensive equipment and airplane tickets is quite another.

Examine what exactly is involved, and be honest with yourself.


Is it timely?

That is, is it measurable in time? This is a very important one. Your goal to get fit might meet all of the above criteria, but unless you set a time frame, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Without a deadline, a goal is merely a wish. You might wish you could run a 5k race, but until you challenge yourself to run it within the next 10 weeks, your chances of actual completion are slim. You’ll always be working on it, but never be able to check it off your list.

Similarly, a deadline that’s far into the future may as well be no deadline at all. Do you think that if I tell myself I’ll be able to do 100 sit-ups by the end of the year that I’m going to make any progress at all for the first 11 months? Giving myself 4 weeks, however, will help to focus my mind a lot more and give me something concrete to work towards.

Some things will require one deadline and that’s it. For instance, you might have “run a marathon” on your bucket list, but have no desire to maintain that level of fitness after you’ve completed it, and that’s totally fine.

But some things aren’t just about deadlines, or one single point in time. I might push myself to the limits on deadline day and just barely manage 100 sit-ups. Does that mean I’m now “fit”? Of course not. What most people mean when they say they want to get fit is that they want to reach a certain level of fitness, and then either stay there or continue to improve gradually. They want to be able to do 100 sit-ups 3 times a week, or swim 50 laps of the pool once a week, or run a marathon once a year…

Set yourself a deadline and, if necessary, a way of tracking your progress over time.

Creating SMART goals

Example of a pre-SMART resolution: get fit.

Example of a post-SMART resolution: complete a beginners yoga class within 10 weeks, and then practice yoga for 10 minutes at least twice a week.

Specific (yoga practitioner), Measurable (class completed and twice weekly sessions), Achievable (beginners level), Realistic (one course, and short sessions thereafter), and Timely (10 weeks initially, then weekly goals).


Now it’s your turn. Have you made some resolutions? Examine each in turn and see if they meet the SMART criteria.

Comment below and let me know what your resolutions look like pre-and post-SMART.


How to deal with criticism and overcome negativity in 3 simple steps

I don’t take criticism very well. Not even constructive criticism. I go through various stages of negative emotions, many of them just different types of anger, and I let it eat away at me long after the event. I can retain bitterness, even years later. ‘A woman scorned’, and all that.

(Have you noticed how, in the heat of an argument, women have an uncanny ability to remind you of every foolish thing you ever uttered, and of even the smallest slight against them going back to the beginning of time? We tend to come to a boil, then sit and simmer for a while, before eventually boiling over again.)

Anyway, recently, I had the misfortune of being criticised by a stranger. It was in the form of “oh, you shouldn’t have done that”, so it couldn’t have been construed as constructive in any way. There are fewer things in life more frustrating than being told how to do something, particularly when there’s no real “right” way of doing it.

But this time I was determined not to let it get to me. It consumed me for a whole 24 hours… and then I just let it go. Holding onto bad feeling like that does nothing but increase stress levels and blood pressure. It takes over your every waking thought, until you find yourself constantly tense and on edge. I wasn’t going to let a stranger rule my life that way.

 

“Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out.”

― Robert Tew

 

SO HERE’S WHAT I DID TO OVERCOME MY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS, AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TOO:


1.   I asked myself if there was anything positive I could take from the experience.

Any silver lining at all. Was there a compliment hidden in that big, grey cloud?

Sometimes you can’t see an upside. Sometimes the experience itself won’t be positive, but will lead to something positive. Sometimes you’ll sit at home stewing about getting caught out in the rain and now being stuck shivering and shaking, and then look up to find a loved one offering a blanket and a warm meal.

There may not be goodness in every single thing, but there is goodness. Look for it and you’ll start to see it everywhere.


2.   I looked for the lesson.

Not every experience is positive, but most experiences that stir up strong emotions have lessons to be learned, even if the lesson is only to avoid future similar experiences.

They don’t have to be life-changing lessons, like who your true friends are; they can be practical things, like knowing from now on which floorboard creaks when you’re creeping away from your sleeping baby’s crib.

Treat every bad experience as an opportunity to learn and grow.


3.   I asked myself if there was anything to be gained by holding onto the negative thoughts.

If you’ve followed steps 1 and 2 and extracted what you can from the situation, the answer should be ‘no’.

Negative thoughts drain our energy, deplete our willpower, distract us, deceive us, and drive us demented. They prevent us from enjoying our lives.

How many times have you snapped at a loved one because you were still annoyed about that rude customer in work? Or spilled your coffee because you were so busy fuming about that person who cut you off in traffic?

Can you see where negativity gets you? Needless and avoidable arguments.Irritability. Tension. A dry-cleaning bill.


Does it always work for me? Hell no. I can still hold a grudge like no other. But does that mean I should always just succumb to negativity and never try to be a better, calmer person? Of course not! I try every day. Oh how I try!

Negative thoughts lead to more negativity. But, fortunately, it works the other way around too – positivity breeds positivity. (For more information about why this is the case, read my post on ‘confirmation bias’.)

Pure negativity has no benefits. At best, you’ll feel cranky and frustrated; at worst, your health will start to suffer. Is it worth the tension headache to re-play the episode over and over again in your mind, getting more and more bent out of shape each time?


Pick out the positive, learn the lesson, and let it go.


What do you do to overcome negativity in your life?


Overwhelmed by motherhood(?)

Before I became a mother, my days were usually devoted to doing what I wanted to do. While I’m not for a second suggesting that I don’t want to look after my daughter, there has certainly been a huge change in my day-to-day life. Apart from spending a lot more time at home (which, being a home-bird anyway, I love), my days are now devoted to someone else. Sometimes, that’s hard.

I want to emphasise that 99% of it is wonderful; she’s a blessing and I absolutely adore her. But there are still times when I feel overwhelmed. Being a parent is a full-time job. You’re always “on”. Always alert. Even when your baby is sleeping, your brain is still listening out for sounds and movement. So I try to take full advantage of the times my husband is looking after her.

Photo Credit: Meredith_Farmer via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Meredith_Farmer via Compfight cc

But still, it can be tough. Simple tasks like cooking and cleaning are suddenly made much more difficult when your attention is required elsewhere. Shopping or meeting up with friends is that much tougher when you’ve got a pram with you. Sometimes even finding a few minutes to grab a quick shower can be tricky.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s so easy to lose your identity. I know, at times, I have. I’m still the same person I was before I had a baby; I still like the same things. Obviously, my daughter’s wants and needs come before my own, and that’s OK, but everyone needs a little “me time” to keep them sane. It’s important not to lose your sense of self.

Source: disjointedthinking.jeffhughes.ca

Source: disjointedthinking.jeffhughes.ca

During one particular period of overwhelm this week, while trying to remind myself that things are different now because I have a child, a little voice inside me piped up and said, “Yes, but you’re more than a mother”. It resonated with me, and I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of you.

Yes, I will always be a mother. Yes, when you get right down to it, my child will always come first. But that doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t take care of me too. I’m also a daughter myself. And a wife. And a friend. I’m a writer, a reader, a watcher of TV, an organiser, a web surfer, a shopper, a worker… There’s a lot more to me than “just” being a mother.

juggling-woman

Motherhood is such a wonderful experience; I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Seeing my little girl smile is the best gift I could ever receive. But it’s also OK to acknowledge that I’m still more or less the same person I always was. I still have the same likes and dislikes. I still have the same hobbies and passions. I still watch the same TV and read the same books (albeit in much smaller amounts). I’m still me.

If you’re also feeling a little overwhelmed by the demands of parenthood, I want you to know that you’re still you, too. It’s OK to wish sometimes that you could just switch off for an hour. It’s OK to want to have a soak in the bath, to curl up with your favourite book, to spend a few hours baking, to go shopping with friends. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK. It doesn’t make you a bad mother; it just makes you human.

68874_390374141049602_1868110476_n

With that in mind, I set up a private Facebook group as a safe haven for those of us who realise that being the best mother you can be includes taking care of yourself. It’s a place to tell other like-minded mothers a little about who you are. All of you. Not just the part that looks after your babies. Tell us about the dancer, poet, gardener, painter, cook, crossword puzzle solver, trainspotter… in you. Ask a question, give and receive some support, share a laugh, post some helpful tips and tricks, or vent a frustration. Go ahead and share a picture of the kids. I mean, they are, after all, a huge part of you. They’re just not all of you.

Join the group here. And spread the word to other mothers who want to embrace their true selves, too.

It’s time to celebrate you. All of you.

Celebrate You


{If you feel that it’s all a bit too much, please speak to a trusted friend or GP. Everyone gets the baby blues, ranging from being a bit weepy to post-natal depression. The latter is very common, is treatable, and is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Having a baby doesn’t suddenly mean you have all the answers. We’re all thrown in the deep end, and very few of us are strong swimmers. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a float until you get your sea legs. 🙂 }


Accentuate the positive – why and how it works

CB1Every time I read a book or listen to a podcast or browse a website about self-improvement, I inevitably come across the same idea – that you attract whatever it is you focus on. In other words, if you think negative thoughts you’ll always be unlucky, whereas you should think positive thoughts to attract good things into your life.

I don’t know what it is about me (my need to label things, I guess), but I wasn’t satisfied with this tip. I felt like it was thrown around too many times without ever being fully explained. It’s easy to say, “To be happy, you just have to do X” without saying why or how it works. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised yesterday while listening to a psychology podcast to hear the theory explained.

It’s called “confirmation bias“. Essentially, what it means is that people are automatically biased towards confirming their existing beliefs. Several studies conducted during the 1960s showed that people will register the evidence that supports their theory and neglect or disregard the evidence that conflicts with it. Why? Because we simply don’t want to be wrong.


CB2


Applying that to our own situations, if we tell ourselves that we have great lives, it’s not that our lives will suddenly change overnight, it’s that we’ll suddenly start seeing the good and ignoring the bad. We’ll want to be right so badly that our brains will collect as much evidence as possible to support our belief. We bias our brains to confirm our theory.

 

CB3

 

Did you ever notice how, when you have to be up early the following morning, you worry that you won’t get enough sleep and then, sure enough, you’re still staring at the ceiling at 3am? All of a sudden, you’re a “bad sleeper” and you’re “tired all the time”. Every time you feel run down, your brain says, “Aha! I told you so”.

Now, did you ever notice how, when you advise your partner/spouse/child/colleague to do something a certain way, they ignore you and do it their way and then it invariably goes wrong? And then they try it your way and it works? Yup, there’s that “Aha! I told you so” moment again, and now your brain is telling you that you’re a genius and that you know the best thing to do in any given situation. Yup, there’s that confirmation bias again, only this time it’s for something positive (assuming you don’t let your ego get to you too much).

So now I know the science behind it… and you do too! If you tell yourself that things are a certain way, your brain will help you out. Nifty, huh? Next time you catch yourself in a negative thought, stop and ask yourself if what you’re thinking is really the case. Does it really always start raining as soon as you leave the house? Really? Stop right there and tell yourself, “It’s great that it stays dry when I have to leave the house”. Now you’re noticing and celebrating the dry days, not blowing out of the proportion the odd rainy day.

 

CB4

 

So I’ll tell you what every other self-improvement book/podcast/website will tell you – focus on the positive and your life will improve. But at least now you know the why and the how, so you’re much better equipped to actually implement it.

Try it and see!

 

Ditch the Distractions – Simple Steps to Stay Focused & Improve Your Concentration

Source: media02.hongkiat.com

We all want to be more productive. More efficient. But how do we do it? Something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while (in fact, I’m struggling with it right this very second) is focus. How many times have you started to do something, only to remember something else, or to see something out of the corner of your eye, or to hear something that brings back so many memories… How much quicker would things get done if you could just cut out distractions and concentrate on the task at hand?

Source: brain-smart.net

Let me share a story that I think ties in quite nicely with this topic: my husband is a huge American football fan. Of course, with each game being approximately three hours long, you can imagine how much time it takes up for him. Which is why I was intrigued to hear that, when someone he knows records a game, he edits out all the stoppages. The result? He can watch the game in less than half the time.

That’s what learning to focus can do for our lives – it can cut out all the breaks and help us get the job done in half the time, without skipping any essentials. So how do you eliminate distractions?

This is something I’ve become more and more aware of recently. I try to read a book, and then I notice a Facebook notification. Before I know it, I’ve spent an hour online. Then I wonder why I have to keep renewing my library loans. Or I sit down to write something, and all of a sudden I’m totally engrossed in what’s happening outside the window. Two hours later, when the job I started still isn’t done, I bemoan my life and start to dread what I’m supposed to be doing. From then on, every time I think about that task, I immediately start thinking of any excuse to get out of it, based on the false assumption that it will take me too much time.

Source: uniter.ca

Now I’m not saying you should go sit in a blank cube of a room or immerse yourself in a sensory deprivation tank – I’m simply suggesting that you take a few small steps to minimise distractions. Put your phone on silent, turn off the vibrate function, and even turn it upside down so you’re not distracted by the screen lighting up. In fact, go put it in a different room so that you’re not tempted to check for messages at the mere sight of it sitting by your side.

Yes, it’s tough at first, but it becomes so much easier. Recently, my phone got wet and I had to leave it in a bag of rice for a few days. The first day, I went to check it on a fairly regular basis. The second day, I only checked it a handful of times. The third and final day, I barely even noticed that I didn’t have it with me. And even though the phone is now fully dry and functional again, I often just put it down and go about my business. Whereas once it was like my right arm and I didn’t even leave the room without first putting it in my pocket, now I frequently let it sit in a corner and only check it occasionally. What am I missing out on? Nothing!

Source: sandymetcalf.com

So that’s the phone taken care of, but what about other devices? What about when you’re typing away on your computer and all of a sudden you see a notification pop up alerting you to a new email, or a new friend on Facebook, or a new tweet? Personally, I don’t like changing notifications settings because, sometimes, they’re useful. So what do I do instead? I just close down the browser tab. Or I don’t open it in the first place. I needed to finish writing something this morning, so I switched on the laptop. Normally, the first thing I’d do is boot up my browser. This time? I opened up the Word document I was working on and just got stuck in. It’s so much easier to concentrate on one thing when you don’t have other things open in the background, luring you away.

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The same is true of the TV. How could you possibly concentrate fully on something when there’s all that noise and movement in the background? TV shows are designed to suck you in and hold your attention. Why would you want your brain to have to fight that when it’s trying to focus on something else? And why would you sit by the window when there’s all sorts of activity going on outside? Yes, it’s fine to sit by a window when the setting soothes you and a glimpse out at nature refreshes and inspires you, but that’s unlikely to happen if your window faces out over a busy street or a scene with a lot of hustle and bustle. Turn away!

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Sometimes, it’s the people on your side of the window that distract you. In this case, you just have to make it clear that you’re not available, and you should ensure that you do it in advance if you can. It may take a while for this to sink in, but your family will soon get the message. Make it easy for them — don’t set up shop at the kitchen table or a busy family spot. Instead, pick a quiet corner and, if possible, close the door. Hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign if that’s what you need to do.

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And one final tip. I recently watched a video that suggested that you’d increase productivity if you just stopped procrastinating and did things as soon as you thought of them. Sound advice, you might think, until you end up dropping the duster because you’ve just remembered you need milk. Doing things as we think of them isn’t increasing our productivity, it’s detracting from it. Even while writing this, I remembered something else I need to do. If I’d gone and done it, I’d most likely spot something else that needed doing. And so on, and this post would never get written.

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So how do you ensure that, by just focusing on one thing, you don’t end up forgetting that second thing? Do what I do and write it down! That way you can go back to finishing what you’d started, without the second thing taking up valuable brain space, and without worrying that you’ll have forgotten what it was by the time you’re done with your current task.

Life will always throw obstacles in your way — your brain will always want to re-live a long-ago memory just when you want to get some writing done, your phone will always beep just when you were about to start in on the ironing, and your new email will seem infinitely more urgent just as you were about to go put on a wash load. But guess what? All those things will still be there when you’re done.

The dishwasher will get emptied in just a minute or two if you don’t keep stopping to reply to text messages. You’ll have the beds made in a jiffy if you don’t gaze out the window, wondering which direction those dark clouds are moving. You’ll have the table cleared in mere moments if you don’t keep your eyes fixed squarely on the nightly news.

We all lose focus at times. It’s only natural for our minds to stray, or for the doorbell to ring unexpectedly, or for the washing machine to suddenly spring a leak. Those things are inevitable and often unavoidable. But most things aren’t. The next time you go to do something, make a note of anything that distracts you. What can you do to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

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By being mindful of what distracts you, you can start to put preventative measures in place. Pretty soon, that chore that used to take you a whole hour to get through is now done and dusted in ten minutes. And guess what? Knowing that you no longer have to find a whole hour in your schedule to do it means you don’t dread it, and it’s going to get done much more often. Your kitchen will be cleaner, you’ll have read so many more books, you won’t have a whole house full of half-finished jobs… All because you ditched the distractions  for a few minutes.

What distracts you? And how are you going to deal with it?