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Mental Calibration: 5 Steps to Focus Better and Maintain Perspective

Mental Calibration: 5 Steps to Focus Better and Maintain Perspective
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Ever feel like your neurons are stuck in a negative feedback loop? You’re obsessed with a relationship gone wrong, or stuck in an endless argument with your best friend, or you can’t stop thinking about that video game you spend too much time playing. Spiraling thoughts sap away productivity. You know you should stop, but like a bathroom scale that keeps pointing to 5 instead of 0, you can’t seem to get your thoughts in balance. Time to pull back, slow down and recalibrate your neurons. Here’s how:

1. Begin Each Day with the Things that Matter Most

Life is frantic. It’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of email, errands, hobbies and arguments… so much so that you collapse into an exhausted heap on your bed at the end of the day. Wrung out, worn out, you stare toward the ceiling as your thoughts spiral in guilty cycles. There’s so much you didn’t get done.

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It’s a common pattern, but it’s not one you have to stay trapped in. Make an effort to start each day with the things that matter most to you. You’ll still have a huge list of uncompleted tasks by nightfall, but you’ll feel better if you’re confident that what you did instead was more important.

2. Remind Yourself of Your Priorities

Doing the “things that matter most” is all well and good – but it requires actually knowing what your priorities are.

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The human brain is oddly distractible. Start playing a computer game, and within a few minutes, the scoreboard in the upper right corner becomes more important than the paperwork your boss is waiting for. Start weeding the flower beds, and that last, annoying little dandelion sprout can crowd out the needs of your family or children. Bit by bit, over days and weeks, these tiny maladjustments can add up to a severe distortion in our perceptions.

Take time each day, preferably in the morning, to remind your brain of your priorities. This may involve listening to a song by your favorite artist, reading scriptures specific to your religion, writing in a journal or pondering an inspirational quote from the previous century. Whatever helps you drag your brain back into a clear focus on your priorities – spend time doing it.

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3. Seek Opportunities for Growth

A tree that is growing will move instinctively toward the light. It will dig roots that hold it firm against storms. It will adjust to changing conditions and compensate for shifting cliff faces.

A human being who is growing can do many of the same things. Seek opportunities to improve your abilities. Take a class. Read a book. Make an effort to improve your interactions at work or at home. At all costs, resist the temptation to stagnate.

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4. Attend to the Physical

You brain is connected to the rest of your body. If you want it to function properly, you’re going to have to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Exercise daily. Learn which foods clear your mind, and which leave you muzzy-headed. Pay attention to your body’s response to sunlight, fresh air and freedom from constant, oppressive background noises. Everyone’s body is different, so the best way to discover what yours needs is through trial and error.

5. Surround Yourself with Focused, Confident People

We tend to become more like the people we spend time with. Seek out friendships and business contacts that build you up. Avoid social groups that make you feel uncomfortable, looked down upon or incompetent. Learn to trust your own inner compass. Cultivate the company of people who accept you for who you are and inspire you to improve.

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Featured photo credit: marykbaird via morguefile.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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