ASK LISA – Why Am I So Distracted? (and what can I do about it?)

ASK LISA – Why Am I So Distracted?

Ask Lisa is an advice post for people who write in to me, asking questions about a specific problem or situation.  Although this is in no way a substitute for therapy, my hope and prayer is that it gives encouragement and direction for whatever you face.

If you have a specific question you would like answered, write in.  I’d be glad to tackle it together!

Dear Lisa,


I am having trouble focusing lately.  I am struggling to remember appointments, I can barely keep up with my kids’ schedules, and it takes me forever to finish projects I start.


Just when I am getting started on laundry, someone texts me, and I can’t remember where I left off.  I can start off strong on a work project only to be dazed by fifty emails and emergency calls.  Sometimes I can’t remember what I was even working on at all.


I used to pride myself on being organized —a place for everything and everything in its place. I did well in school and was able to manage my course work, a couple of part-time jobs, in addition to writing for the college paper. I was even a junior high school teacher at my local church.


But now my mind feels fuzzy, spinning all the time, and I can’t get it to stop. My heart often feels unsettled and tense.  I have great friends and family, but I’m never able to really enjoy their company.


Most of the time, my only downtime comes when I’m watching tv or scrolling through Facebook. My doctor is concerned about my blood pressure, and says I might benefit from anti-anxiety meds. What do you think?


How can I get my focus back? Do I really need meds to focus? Am I ADHD?



Dear Distracted,


I am so sorry to hear about the symptoms you are experiencing.  Without a formal diagnostic assessment I cannot tell whether your symptoms would meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, nor can I determine whether or not you are in need of medication.

For many who struggle with anxiety disorders and/or ADHD, medication can be extremely important to regaining their lives as well as their functioning.  While I would never rule out medication, I do believe we live in a distracted world today where too many stimuli put too much pressure on our brains and our bodies, the result of which can be symptoms similar to what you are experiencing.



A recent study by Synovate found that more than 4 in 10 Americans say they can’t live without their mobile phone; 82 percent say they never leave home without it; nearly half of them sleep with it nearby. It is not enough for them to send text messages all day; they need to have their phones with them in case something happens during the night. Meanwhile, more and more of us are taking our cell phones and computers on vacation with us, mixing work time with leisure time. Just glance around your church on a Sunday morning, and you may well notice people sending text messages during worship.



In short, we are a distracted people living on a technology overload.  We are too available, too connected, too busy being what everyone else needs, doing what others tell us, that we have forgotten how to say no, how to disconnect. CLICK TO TWEET  We have lost the ability to quiet ourselves, to silence our hearts and minds so we can focus on the things that matter most.  Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking His plans and purposes for our days and our lives.  Discover His presence in the relationships we encounter along the way. CLICK TO TWEET



According to Maggie Jackson, columnist for the Boston Globe and author of the book “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age,” there is much more at stake in our culture today because of technology than a few bad test scores and an endemic of decoding problems. Maggie says, The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention–the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress. Moreover, this disintegration may come at great cost to ourselves and to society….The erosion of attention is the key to understanding why we are on the cusp of a time of widespread cultural and social losses.



Jackson adds, We can create a culture of attention, recover the ability to pause, focus, connect, judge, and enter deeply into a relationship or an idea. We do that attention exercises and using something I have a shortage of lately … discipline. Or we can slip into numb days of easy diffusion and detachment…. The choice is ours.



What is distraction, really?



At its core, distraction is the confusion about what matters most in a moment.  When we believe everything matters, we cannot prioritize, cannot discern, cannot filter the momentous from the menial, the important from the immediate. CLICK TO TWEET


ASK LISA – Why Am I So Distracted? (and what can I do about it?)

This is a problem.


If our minds and our hearts are spread so thin, we can never experience the depth or beauty of listening to understand ourselves, or develop deep, intimate connections with others.


Here are seven tips to decrease distraction so that you can be more engaged and productive in every area of your life.


1.  Solitude        


Start your day with 5-10 minutes of solitude.  Breathe deeply.  No distractions.  No cellphones.  Certainly no television.  Quiet your mind and center your mind and your heart on God.  Just allow yourself to give yourself fully to His presence.  Allowing our minds to rest will help us stay centered throughout the day and will give us greater mental/emotional clarity. CLICK TO TWEET



I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your waysPsalm 119:15 (ESV)


My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promise. – Psalm 119:148



2.  Sleep    


When we don’t get adequate sleep, not only does our body get tired, but our brain gets tired as well. Our thoughts feel muddled and cloudy. We can’t focus.  It takes so much energy just to focus on the simplest tasks, anything complex sends us into overload.



Take it easy.  Prepare for rest.  Plan it.  Navigate your work/family routine so that you can make sure you have the ability to get a full night’s rest.  Your body and your mind will thank you.


3.  Manage your energy



If you have gotten a good night’s rest, your energy tank should be full enough to accomplish the tasks for the day.  Yet too many times, we devote too much energy to unimportant tasks and find ourselves depleted by the time we get to the bigger, more challenging tasks.



Find out when your body has the most energy.  Schedule the most demanding tasks during that time, while leaving the less demanding tasks for times you know your energy reserves will be lower.



4. Create Structure  


Such a simple word, and yet a magnificent tool when used creatively and wisely. Structure refers to how you shape your day, how you spend your time, what boundaries you create, what rules you follow, what hours you keep, what breaks you take, what priorities you set up, which tasks you take, what plans you make, and what flexibility you create.


Without structure, focus is impossible. Chaos reigns. In order to create, preserve, and promote your own best structures, you need to take control.


5.  Put your cell phone away    


I mean away. Really.  Away.  Like— in another room away.   It will be written on our tombstones that we had a great relationship with our cellphone, that we devoted more time and energy of our lives to it than to any other activity, purpose, or relationship.Ouch. I know.


When you watch tv at night, put your cellphone in the kitchen.  When you go to bed, leave it in the kitchen.  As you do your chores around the house, yes, you don’t need it attached to your body every minute of the day.  Yes, your kids will survive at school for a few hours without immediate access to you. They will.  You will.


Watch what happens. It will amaze you and astound you.



No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)



6.  Turn your notifications off


When an email comes in, you don’t have to answer it within one minute. You don’t have to listen intently for the ding of the next text.  You don’t have to look at Facebook every five minutes. You don’t.  The world will keep spinning even if it takes an hour to see an email.


To be in a moment without the world invading our thoughts, our passions, our purpose, can transform and empower the fullness of each moment. Your mind will settle and you will move throughout your day with more intention, clarity, and purpose than you ever thought possible.


And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10



7.  Give yourself wholeheartedly to each moment   


Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you will not do it well when you are interrupted. You thoughts will become scattered, and though you may survive each moment and each day, you will never experience the power and presence of giving yourself fully, completely, wholeheartedly to each moment, each task, each relationship.


How can we love completely when we bring half of our hearts?  How can we serve with grace and power when we are just waiting for the next thing?

Exchange boredom for meaning. Distraction for depth.  Check into your emotions and create a life that is anything but bored, that is vibrant, passionate, purposeful.  This is what God designed for us.



I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord1 Corinthians 7:35 (ESV)


Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it. _Anonymous


This week, I encourage you to consider how distraction impacts you in the context of the digital age.


Where are you?

Where are you going?

Is this someplace you want to go?

If not, where do you want to be?

Are you dependent on technology?

How does social media impact your relationships with others, and more importantly your relationship with yourself?

What is one way you can disconnect from technology each day?


I will be prayerful for you on your journey towards focus, and calmness. Please don’t be afraid to reach out to a great Christian therapist in your area to help walk with you along the way.


Blessings to you,


**The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional.

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