Fill up your senses
Yesterday morning, as I was waiting for my coffee to brew, I popped out into my back garden. I stood in the sun amongst the foxgloves and listened.
Layers of birdsong punctuated by nearby bees. Bose-quality surround sound with no tech. I felt a sense of calm. The busy head I’d sat with in my morning meditation drowned out by nature.
Filling my head with sound is one of the strategies I’ve been finding really useful to divert attention from a head full of thoughts, often unhelpful ones.
Putting in headphones and listening to choral evensong on Radio 3 has worked particularly well because it’s not only rich sound but also uplifting.
There’s good reason why this works. Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time.
Even when you think you’re multi-tasking – or thinking multiple thoughts – your brain is actually rapidly switching between tasks or thoughts.
There is absolutely a time to examine unhelpful thoughts, to reframe them, to reach out and test our assumptions with others, to use techniques to ridicule our inner critic.
However, sometimes we’re best not trying to think our way through thoughts, but to use our senses to shift attention away from them.
In the recent session of the group coaching programme I’m running, I asked participants to try a few different strategies to refocus their attention. Each found a particular strategy that worked best for them and there were all surprised at how it had the effect of knocking their worries off their radar.
Try them out yourself :
- Look for everything that’s, for example, red in your environment.
- Notice all the objects that are on your desk or in the room. Really pay attention to them. Look at them as if you’ve never seen them before.
- Explore things around you by touch – for example, the surface of your desk, your clothes, your hand. Feel the texture. Notice whether it’s hot or warm or cool.
- Become aware of your feet. Notice their contact with the floor, the feel of socks on your skin, how hot or cold they are.
- Listen to everything you can hear inside and outside your room. What’s the furthest sound you can hear?
I also find that activities that I really have to focus on work really well – tennis, for example, works for me rather than walking where my mind still has plenty of attentional space to think.
Remember you don’t have to be the slave to your mind; choose to be the master of it instead.
What about you? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alison Reid helps new Directors focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm and effective under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.