Getting Organized….For Life! by Chad Abbott, M.D.
You will notice that health is on that list. Unfortunately, it is often the one thing that gets forgotten among the countless things which need to be organized in our lives. The other responsibilities on the list such as career, raising children, and financial obligations tend to dominate most people’s time. This leaves little time for something so fundamentally important and vital, namely your health.
There is a proven connection between disorganized minds and unhealthy habits. The National Institute of Aging reports that impulsivity, chronic negativity, high stress and multi-tasking are all symptoms of a disorganized mind. These symptoms correlate with higher weight. Persons ranked in the top 10 percent for impulsivity were on average 24 pounds heavier than those in the bottom 10 percent.
The way to combat the so called disorganized mind and the real health implications that go with it is to tap into the mind’s innate ability to focus. Our brains are naturally wired to focus on one thing and block out all of the background noise. Unfortunately, with the multi-tasking that we do every day, most of us have lost the ability to focus on one thing to its completion. The way to get back to tap into your brain’s innate ability to focus is to follow 6 simple rules:
- Tame your Frenzy.
- Sustain your Focus.
- Apply the Brakes.
- Access your Working Memory.
- Shift sets.
- Connect the Dots.
Rule No. 1: Tame your Frenzy
The first thing necessary to focus your attention is to learn to take charge of “emotional frenzy”. Emotional frenzy is what happens when negative emotions such as worry, anger, sadness, irritation are running the show. This frenzy of negative emotions negatively impacts the part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is where the brain’s “CEO” lives and allows us to prioritize, organize and initiate higher level functions such as creating healthy eating habits, exercise regimens, managing finances, etc. If you have too many negative emotions and stress governing your brain, you lose the ability to focus on any one thing. Instead, your brain will bounce from one thing to the next. We have all experienced this and it leads to frustration, procrastination, and overall dissatisfaction with our lives. There are some simple solutions to help tame this frenzy such as: sleeping well, exercising, trying some mindfulness activities like meditation, and driving in the slow lane from time to time. It is not possible to eliminate negative emotions and stress from our lives, but we can tame the emotional frenzy that they cause.
Rule No. 2: Sustain your Focus
Once you feel like you have reasonably calmed the emotional frenzy it is time to move onto identifying a task that you want to focus on. It is important that you identify one and only one task! Resist the urge to make a mental list of all of the things you wish to accomplish. Despite what you might think, our brain was designed to focus on one thing at a time before moving onto the next thing. There is a misconception that if you don’t try to accomplish everything right now that you are somehow a failure. Don’t believe this! This is a fallacy that can trip you up and leave you feeling disillusioned. Once you have identified one and only one task you are going to focus on, tell your brain that this is what you are going to focus on. If it helps write it down on a piece of paper and stare at it until you can see it in your mind’s eye. Set aside 20 – 30 minutes out of your day to focus on this task. Example: If you want to organize your finances, sit down with a piece of paper and list what your goals are in terms of organizing your finances (e.g. starting a budget, setting up auto-bill pay or reminders noting when bills are due, deciding how to start saving money). When you begin working on this task, set a time and turn off all electronic devices. Electronic devices are thought to improve efficiency and time management, but they actually make us inefficient in many ways if not used properly.
Rule No. 3: Apply the Brakes
You will need to be able to put the brakes on your focused brain to allow time for “brain rest”. That way you can move onto the next task and leave the other one behind. You can always choose to return to the previous task, but to move forward without overwhelming your mind, it is necessary to put the brakes on. Putting the brakes on allows you to determine if the distractions that are shifting your focus from the task at hand need your urgent attention. For instance, you are focused creating a financial plan, but your child comes home upset about a school incident and needs your attention. This trumps the financial planning for the moment. Even if you try to stay focused on the financial planning task, inevitably your focus will constantly be drawn to your child’s more urgent matter. This is okay. Go ahead and take a mental break and stop what you are doing. Take some deep breaths and proceed to take care of the matter at hand. Your brain will thank you for this mental break and you will have better success at diving into the urgent matter.
Rule No. 4: Access your Working Memory
Think of short term memory as the RAM or Random Access Memory from computer lingo. Put simply your short term memory is that basket of small bits of information that you are able to call upon at any time. This is stored in a different part of the brain just like RAM is in a different location from your computer’s hard drive which is the long term memory center. Accessing your short term memory allows you to focus on current matters, problem-solve, generate new ideas, and differentiate the patterns in front of you that will help you with strategic planning. When you access your short term memory and tame the mental frenzy your success rate will go way up! It is significant to keep in mind exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, and deep breathing help with both taming the mental frenzy and accessing your short term memory.
Rule No. 5: Shift Sets
How do you actually shift from one task to the other? This brain skilled is referred to as “set-shifting”. Think of this as your brain’s ability to be agile or flexible. This is a very important skill for your brain to have success in moving on from one task to another which ultimately leads to a higher rate of completing any one task. Some of the most creative ideas and solutions can come from putting the brakes on your brain or when shifting focus to a new idea or task.
Rule No. 6: Connect the dots
Now you are on your way to mastering rules 1-5. You are able to focus on one thing at a time while handling distractions. It is time to connect the dots. If you use all of the above rules over and over again it will get easier and you will see improvement not only in your focus and attention, but also your outlook on life. It is a well-known fact that confidence is contagious. Small victories bring confidence to move on to bigger and bigger challenges. You will be able to use your organized mind to accomplish health and fitness goals. Mental and physical go hand in hand and now you’ll be able to focus on achieving them.The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.