#SWAAYthenarrative
BETA
Close

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.

6 Min Read
People

Sneak Peek: Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories About Dating, Divorce, And Saying "I Do"

Dating. Divorce. Marriage. Being single. None of it is easy.


I don't think any of us have the right answers or know exactly what we are doing when we navigate through relationships or breakups, even if we do take every Buzzfeed quiz there is out there. What I have found out though, is by writing this book, Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Dating, Divorce & Saying "I Do" most everyone can relate to some part of it, whether it is having an awkward date, being dumped, or falling in love. The short stories read as if we are talking over drinks at a bar gossiping about our love life. It's as if, you, reader, are one of my best friends. I hope by reading this book you are reminded that you don't have to be anybody but you and your mistakes are simply memories to learn upon. Get comfy, grab a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), cuddle with your furry companion (pet or otherwise), and enjoy…

From the chapter "Kansas & The Firepit" from Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Divorce, Dating & Saying "I Do"

I had lost my dog to my ex. I was a mess. I thought this man was going to be by my side the rest of my life, I had gained a lot of weight. Not the kind of weight you gain when you tell your friend "OMG, Kelly, I, like, put on five pounds this summer because of all the partying I've been doing at the rooftop bars," but real weight. The weight that makes you feel totally inadequate. The weight that makes you say, Hey I might as well keep eating because it doesn't matter anymore. I was inconsolable during that summer.

I still wasn't completely out of my trash TV and alcohol phase, but I had switched to vodka, at least. Which, let's be real, just hides the fact that you're an alcoholic. I wasn't really talking to anyone about my problems. My mom tried to take me to fat camp. Yes, fat camp. When your mother says the reason why you're not happy is because you're fat, there comes a point where you really don't know whether to laugh, cry, or drink. I think I did all three. The reason why I wasn't happy was because I was going through a divorce, and my life was unraveling. I was not only unhappy but also fat, so I guess there was some truth to that. It was just what I needed to hear to get myself back to reality.

While cleaning the kitchen one day, I walked by a pair of boxing gloves. Boxing was something I had always been interested in. Watching it on TV and having some friends that had done it professionally, I figured I would take the plunge and put this "body after breakup" into motion.

There was only one boxing club in our area for fitness. I walked into the afternoon classes knowing that I was going to be a little out of my element, but I'm not afraid of a challenge. I'm an outgoing person and being sports savvy, I knew that I would catch on quickly. The guy teaching the class, Kansas, was very attractive. Ladies, you know how in yoga when you have to do the sun god pose? Well, let's just say he was what you would hope a sun god looked like. With sweat glistening down the side of his face, it was almost as if the ceiling parted and angels started singing as he stood over you telling you, "Ten more!" as you got down for ab rounds between punches. This guy was exciting. He was energetic. He was. . . constantly checking on me during class to make sure my form was correct, since I was new, and let's face it—I was totally OK with the attention. After class I signed up for a one-year membership and became addicted, not just because I loved the workouts but also because of the hot trainer.

I started coming to class three times a week, initially taking only Kansas's classes, but not wanting to look obvious when I really started crushing on him, I had to mix it up. I mean, this is Crushing 101. This was my first crush out of the gate post-divorce, so exactly what you think would happen, happened. Kansas became my rebound guy. I would make any excuse to linger after class (which, looking back, just made me look desperate), but then sometimes I would switch it up and leave. I mean, it was a game. I was trying to figure out if he was interested or not. It was exhausting. After talking after class for a few weeks, I happened to mention a home improvement project I had been thinking of working on. Being the good listener (stalker?) that I was, I knew he just happened to be interested in home improvements, as he did many of his own. I figured that would be a great way to get to know each other better and for him to fall completely in love with me, of course. Duh. Now I had a reason to cross something off my "list". I love sitting outside and having a glass of wine and listening to music by a fire. I wasn't really sure how I was going to accomplish this task on my own, but recruiting a fine gentleman like Kansas would be a good start. So, he agreed to my firepit project, and after gathering supplies at Home Depot, he came over, and I quote to you from my journal, I kid you not:

So today he shows up, and we are in the backyard digging the hole, and he takes his shirt off. His body is a wonderland! I mean sweat is just glistening down his torso. So I had to change the subject somehow and shut my gaping mouth, so like an idiot I say, "Oh, look, a callus on my hand," and he says, "Those on a woman are sexy." FML.

Ladies and gentlemen, do you want to know what I did that day? Something so adult and so mature: I pushed him into the dirt. I pushed that beautiful body into the dirt. I couldn't take it. I was like a schoolkid on a playground. Because that is the type of tantrum this lady used to throw. Kansas took it as flirting. I took it as frustration, because I couldn't tell a boy I liked him at the time.

This whole awkward flirting game went on for a few more weeks. Kansas would come over, and we'd dig more holes (to bury my dignity in) or set stones—I don't know. I thought rebound guys were supposed to be fun, casual things, but this wasn't fun at all. This was like homework in school. Every day I'd come home from "class," and I'd strategize on what I needed to do to make better "grades." If I had actually spent half the time in real school that I spent on Kansas, I would've had a 4.0. I was having to chase him, but I almost didn't know what race I was running. After all, I hadn't dated since 1884. So I figured if the firepit thing didn't work, then I'd write him a poem... Like a moron...