Source: Nir and Far
Even when something is weighing on your mind, taking a minute to write it out can help you get the most out of your day. Here’s how.
Though we may strive in vain to be productive machines all day every day, unexpected life events inevitably get in our way.
Maybe you had an argument with a close friend or loved one. Or perhaps you’re figuring out how to care for aging parents, or your child care fell through.
Sooner or later, a personal issue or some other event outside your control is bound to keep you from operating at full capacity. Whether in your personal or work domain, you need to be ready to roll with whatever distraction comes your way.
Whatever the reason, we can’t be “on” all the time. But we still must find ways to be Indistractable.
How are you supposed to manage distraction when there’s so much weighing on your mind?
A daily morning brain dump may be just the solution you’re looking for.
The Real Cause of Distraction
First, we need to start with the underlying cause of most distractions.
It turns out the reason we tend to get distracted has more to do with what’s going on inside of us rather than in the world around us.
Though we tend to blame our devices and other “external triggers,” if we want to master distraction, we have to deal with our desire to escape discomfort, the real source of nearly all our distractions.
An “internal trigger” is an uncomfortable emotion we seek to escape, and it’s the root of our tendency to go off track.
It’s not the event itself that leads to distraction. It’s what we do in response to how we feel about it that causes us to spend our time in ways we later regret.
Thus, we must start by examining the internal triggers that lead us away from what we plan to do.
To break the vicious cycle of distraction, it’s important to have an arsenal of tools that enable us to deal with that discomfort in a healthier manner. That way, we’re ready to face the emotional discomfort that can lead us astray.
Too many people simply run away from their internal triggers with too much booze, too much news, too much football, or too much Facebook.
Journaling can help us identify those internal triggers so we can do something about them. It’s a powerful tool for helping you stay focused and become Indistractable by getting those emotions onto the page rather than keeping them bottled up.
Journaling to Improve Focus
When I interviewed author Ryan Holiday for my blog post titled “Here Is How to Practice Stillness and Increase Focus,” he told me that his most important routine is journaling for 15 minutes every morning.
“By the time I am finished,” he said, “I am centered, I am calm, and most importantly, I am primed to do the actual creative work by which I make my living.”
Journaling has repeatedly shown to be a valuable tool for managing stress and anxiety. One study found that expressive writing diminishes intrusive, avoidant thoughts about negative events and, therefore, may free the mind for other mental activities.
“At least for fairly minor life problems, something as simple as writing about the problem for 20 minutes can yield important effects not only in terms of physical health and mental health but also in terms of cognitive abilities,” said study co-author Adriel Boals .
If you’re anxious or stressed about something in your life, focusing on that discomfort by journaling about it in the morning can help to short-circuit intrusive thoughts throughout the day.
That’s because one of the best tools for combatting distraction and stress is an entirely different belief about stress: befriending it rather than battling against it.
Trying to ignore an urge or an intrusive thought is not an effective coping method, according to research on smoking cessation programs performed by Jonathan Bricker of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Instead, the research found that study participants who acknowledged and explored their craving to smoke were able to quit at double the rate of those in the American Lung Association’s best-performing cessation program.
Likewise, journaling is a great method for proactively acknowledging your worries. It also allows you to assess which problems are under your control and gives you time to form an action plan, versus coming to terms with the things you cannot change.
Every morning for a short period, write about your internal triggers and frustration in a journal; explore those negative feelings with curiosity instead of content. Doing so may help prevent intrusive thoughts from commandeering your attention by giving you peace of mind over what can be done to move your life forward.
Tips for Starting a Journaling Routine
It’s not easy to build a new routine. To start, you have to incorporate the behavior you want into your day.
That necessitates making time for journaling in your timeboxed calendar. Use my free schedule maker to give journaling a time slot in your morning routine.
While journaling, curtail any external triggers or the cues in your environment that may lead to distraction, such as social media notifications. That means you should journal before you turn on your phone or computer — or install apps on your devices that block distracting feeds and websites.
You might also thwart interruptions from your family or roommates by wearing a “concentration crown” or making some sort of signal that they should leave you be.
Think you might need a little more motivation to start a daily journaling routine?
If you like journaling and just need some encouragement, think of journaling as your minimum enjoyable action (MEA)—aka a simple, small, enjoyable behavior that brings you on a journey, you want to take, such as a journey toward feeling calmer and centered every day.
Track your MEA for both positive reinforcements and to help it evolve into a routine.
If you need more of a push toward journaling, try making an accountability pact with a friend.
You can’t eliminate the stressors in your life. But you do have the power to influence their influence on your attention.
By making time to brain dump the internal triggers in your life, you take an important step towards controlling them rather than letting them control you.
A version of this post appears on NirAndFar.com,