Dealing with Distractions


When the mind drifts away
Even when we’re trying hard to concentrate

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from The Challenges Series

This article (and Series) speaks to ANY of us who struggle with staying focused and on-task, by the way.  Distractibility is common with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and in plain vanilla brains with too much to do and too little time in which to do it all. What do you think is behind procrastination?

More about Distractibility

As I said in the conclusion to an earlier post of this series, Distinguishing Distractibility, most brains screen out persistent stimuli.  That talent is part of the mechanism that ensures the survival of the species.

In order to be alert to something that might be life threatening, the brain automatically decides that ongoing stimuli are merely “background,” no longer important enough to pass along to the conscious mind.

I’ll use the sense of smell to give you an example of what I mean . . . 

Because smells are processed directly by what used to be referred to as the limbic area of the brain (instead of having to go through the thalamus, like the other senses), most ADD/EFD and “vanilla” brains – those without the cognitive mix-ins – usually have the same experience of the way it works.

Lessons from the Kitchen

Have you ever prepared a Thanksgiving meal, or been in the kitchen while one was being prepared?

Think back to those amazing smells. Mmmmmmmmm – heaven!

Yet, if you stay in the kitchen, after a while you stop noticing them.

In fact, when another person comes into the room exclaiming, “Boy, it sure smells great in here!” you can’t really smell those amazing aromas anymore, even if you try.

Because cognitive bandwidth is a limited resource, your brain has “backgrounded” the persistent odors so that you will be available to pay attention to any new ones, possibly needing immediate attention — like the fact that the rolls are burning.

If you leave the room (or the house) for a few minutes then come back into the kitchen, even a short while later, every good smell will hit you like a wave in the ocean. “Wow. It does smell good in here!”

YOU don’t have to think about handling the “backgrounding.”

Your brain does that for you, just as transparently as your brain tells you how to walk down a sidewalk without your having to consciously consider each little step in the process — allowing you sufficient “brain space” to think about something else.

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Distinguishing Distractibility


Distractions!
What are they anyway?

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from The Challenges Series


A distraction is an involuntary diversion of attention in response to a stimulus — beyond our control.

Distractions have a negative impact on our ability to focus on an intended object and sustain that focus – in other words, a distraction is an intrusion into our attempt to concentrate on the task at hand.

Distractions can be external (nagging at any one of our five senses), or internal (“interruptions” from our own brain wiring or emotional states).

They can be subtle or overt, compelling or mildy irritating, important or trivial, but they ALL pull us off task, despite our best intentions.

ADD or not, ALL distractions reduce our ability to place our full attention where WE choose to concentrate.

• Can you fully concentrate on calculating your tax liability with repeated visits from your young daughter pleading with you to come outside to watch her ride her brand new bicycle?

• Are you able to take complicated directions over the phone while your spouse attempts to impart, in your other ear, something s/he deems important for you to hear RIGHT NOW?

• Are you able to drive through a blinding rain while your young children squabble in the back seat and your young teen blares the latest “Listen, this is so cool!” rap song?

Not really, right? ALL distractions have a negative impact on our ability to focus on the intended stimulus, and sustain the focus, the first two of the three Dynamics of Attending.

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ABOUT Distractions


Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn
red on mouseover.

NOTE: If you have not read The Dynamics of Attending, the article below will have greater impact if you do that first.
———————————————————————————————————————————– 

Monkey Minds — The Dilemma of Distractability

(c) Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of the Intentional Attending Series – all rights reserved

A cartoon monkey climbing a tree trunk, attention elsewhere - obviously distracted

All distractions are interruptions, but
all interruptions are NOT distractions.

Distinction: disruption vs disturbance

An interruption is a momentary disturbance in the projected flow of a physical or mental activity that creates a break in continuity for a relatively brief interval.

Inherent in the definition is the assumption that concentration will return to the interrupted activity, if appropriate, implying that the control of one’s focus is volitional – a factor of the “will-power” of the individual who has been interrupted.

distraction, on the other hand, is a disruption of an individual’s concentrated attention upon a chosen object of focus. The distinction between the two otherwise similar events is that a distraction is intrusive: it prevents effective operation of the first and third of the three Dynamics of Attending:

  • focusing on the intended object
    and 
  • sustaining the focus

As long as the second dynamic – shifting focus at will – operates efficiently, “one quick interruption” remains so.  Most people can get back on track effectively as long as the “distracting” event is not pervasive or repetitive.

Ay, there’s the rub!

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