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Are Distractions Eating Your Life? A Checklist to Help Reclaim Your Mental Real Estate

3min read
Self

We check our phones out of habit, on average every six minutes. Standing in line at the grocery store?


Pull out your phone.

In an elevator? Pull out your phone. Using the restroom? You know what to do.

There are 260 million smartphones in use in America today – one for every adult, leading us to be more distracted than ever before. Americans check their phones an average of 80 times a day while on vacation, with some checking their screen more than 300 times each day, according to a recent study.

In addition to making us more distracted and prone to accidents, this also contributes to rising levels of stress as our attention is constantly pulled in different directions, leaving us unable to be present in the moment.

Each time we are distracted, it sets us back from what we are trying to accomplish. Each time you are interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for your brain to get back on task, according to a study from UC Irvine titled "The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress." That study is more than a decade old and was published shortly after Apple launched the first iPhone.

A quarter of a billion smartphones later, how's that working out for us? Not long ago I was in the restroom and a woman in an adjoining stall was talking on her speakerphone. I guess this gives a new meaning to the phrase "sit-down meeting."

Not all distractions are bad, as the authors of the UC study pointed out. Interruptions can be beneficial if they are related to the task at hand. But they can set you back when you are working on one task and interrupted by something completely unrelated.

We all find ways to cope with this, and many distractions are self-imposed. You may find it refreshing, for instance, to step away from a project to check the news or your email or that funny text a friend sent you. Or maybe you were among fans of HBO's hit series "Game of Thrones" who chatted with friends about the show as the finale approached. One study estimated office chatter about the series could cost employers $3.3 billion in lost productivity. Yet that's just a fraction of the estimated $997 billion yearly cost to the US economy attributed to lost productivity due to digital distractions

"Noisy, interruption-prone offices make employees unmotivated, stressed, and frustrated," says the 2018 Workplace Distraction Report from online learning platform Udemy. It says employers could boost morale and profits by training employees to stay productive despite distractions.

I don't want to come off as self-righteous. I confess I check my phone constantly and half the time I don't even realize I'm doing it. And that's the problem – when we unconsciously allow anything to interrupt our mental processes and potentially shift our mood, we are giving away our mental real estate.

Think about going on social media and seeing your friends' carefree vacation photos when you are working.

The next thing you know, you are telling yourself you are "stuck" at work and giving in to the proverbial FOMO.

The second you do that, you relinquish control of your mood. And that can affect your entire day if you let it.

This is especially the case when you don't have the mental capacity to process it, put it in perspective, and choose how you want to interpret it. You wouldn't just let someone move into your house without paying for it. So why are you giving away your mental space without being deliberate about who is taking it and what you are letting in?

I'm not suggesting you ditch your phone or get off all social media, but rather to take control. A sense of control reduces fear, anxiety, and stress. We don't have to be ruled by the little screens or the constant urge to check them. Here is a checklist to determine if you need to reclaim mental real estate:

1. Do you check your phone the minute you get out of bed? You just gave someone else permission to be in charge of your brain. Shawn Achor, author of "The Happiness Advantage," notes that the first and last 30 minutes of the day are the times when you are most vulnerable to having your attention hijacked. By relinquishing control first thing in the morning, you spend the rest of the day trying to recover. Try spending the first 30 minutes of your day meditating, reading something uplifting, listening to a podcast, or doing something that elevates your mood. For the last 30 minutes, focus on relaxation, ditch the screen, and set intentions for the next day.

2. Do you find yourself habitually checking social media? Whether it's standing in line at a grocery store or riding an elevator, our need to check status, likes, comments, and be "in the know" is seeping mental energy Social media can be great if it helps you connect with others and build relationships, but not when it starts impacting your mood or causes you to constantly compare yourself with others. Doing that is just waging mental war with yourself. The next time you find yourself heading for a social media fix, ask yourself if it is serving you.

3. Do you feel your attention being constantly drawn away from where you want to direct it? The only thing you can really control is where you attune your attention. When you are stressed, you are attuned to that. You can numb it by going on Facebook for an hour, but what have you accomplished? Practice being intentional and consciously choosing where you want to focus your attention.

Giving away mental real estate also happens when we ruminate about things we can't control or wish we had done differently. It's basically anytime you let someone or something live rent-free in your head, or dictate your mood or behavior. This is why meditation and mindfulness are so powerful. You are training your brain to direct attention where you want it, rather than where it goes by default.

Identifying the distractions in your life and thinking about them in a new way can help you reclaim your mental real estate. After all, just because you can buy beer all day long does not mean you should be drinking it all day! It's the same with all those things that compete for your attention. Own your mind and you will be able to reclaim your attention.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
5min read
Business

My Untold Story Of Inventing the Sports Bra And How it Changed the World (And Me)

Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl


There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.

So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.

I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.

For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.

Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.

Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.

"My Lifelong Partner"

Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."

While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.

This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.

In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.

Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.

The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.

Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.

So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.

Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.

Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.

Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.

Being powerful is a big responsibility.

To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.

While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.

© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019