Simple Actions to Regain Focus (Part 2)
Why Do We Lose Focus In The First Place?
There have been thousands upon thousands of articles, reports, etc. written on the topic of stress, and just as many on dealing with stress.
No doubt there will be thousands and thousands more because this topic is relevant to EVERYONE.
Regardless of where you live, where you work, whether you are single, married, rich or poor, healthy or ill – no matter what your individual circumstances are –
You experience stress and stressors EVERY DAY.
What may come as a surprise to some is that there are actually two types of stress:
Distress (negative stress)
Eustress (positive stress).
With “Distress” a difficult situation is one that is completely overwhelming.
You feel as if you are at the mercy of a situation beyond your control.
It seems as if there are no options and no possibilities to change anything.
Over time, this kind of negative stress can cause illness and often includes:
Poor sleep Decreased production Decreased creativity
Weight gain Health problems Reduced focus
Slow recall Feeling rushed Increased daily hassles
Fatigue Decreased endurance Increased confusion less motivation
Depression Restlessness Boredom
Hopelessness Irritability Shortened attention span
Not so good, right.
In contrast, with “Eustress” a difficult situation is considered as a positive challenge which needs to be met and which can even be enjoyed.
You are usually highly motivated and concentrated during positive stress.
In these situations, stress is believed to be the energy driving you toward success, and includes:
Quick recall Increased energy Increased attention
Increased control Increased production Increased calmness
More fun Increased endurance Increased fulfillment
Increased creativity Increased confidence Decreased health problems
Distress gets the majority of the attention because of its negative effects on health.
As a result, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on finding ways for an individual to decrease his/her level of distress.
In contrast, very little emphasis has been placed on exploring how an individual can increase his/her level of eustress.
This is unfortunate because if an individual is experiencing greater feelings of eustress in various situations, he/she will automatically be experiencing decreased feelings of distress.
Translated into English this means is that in any given situation, you cannot be experiencing both positive and negative stress at the same time.
You are experiencing one or the other in terms of how you choose to direct your focus.
So we need to figure out some actions that you can choose to begin to change distress to eustress in a matter of minutes.
Before we get to that let’s briefly take a look back at the definitions of distress and eustress.
You may have noticed that some words in each description were in bold print: feel, seems, considered, believed.
This is because these words all refer to something called Cognitive Appraisal.
This term basically means how we view a situation. It determines whether we experience a situation with positive stress or negative stress.
We all make thousands of appraisals each and every day in each of our interactions and daily to-do’s.
This process has two steps:
1. Determine whether the situation is relevant or irrelevant to you.
If it is relevant, your mind then determines whether the situation is harmful/threatening, or if it is challenging, where there is a strong likelihood of overcoming the situation and even benefiting from it.
2. Determine if you can cope with the situation.
If you determine that a situation is potentially harmful/threatening and that you cannot deal with it – you will experience a great deal of distress.
However, if you determine that you can deal with the given situation – you will experience eustress.
These Cognitive Appraisals are influenced by individual differences such as:
Past experiences in similar situations
and biological factors.
This means that everyone appraises situations differently, including everyday stressors like the following:
Obvious: (but by no means an all-inclusive list)
24 Hour News
And the maybe not-so-obvious: (again, not an all-inclusive list)
Images in Your Head
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
Now, some of these stressors may have little-to-no impact on you, but may completely hinder someone else’s ability to focus.
At the same time other stressors may inhibit your ability to focus and cause you feelings of negative stress, while having little negative effect on someone else.
The issue that is shared among all of us is that everyday stressors, when experienced on their own, are not really dangerous to our mental and/or physical health.
The problem with everyday stressors is that they are happening…EVERY DAY.
What happens then has to do with what a bunch of smart people doing lots of scientific studies have termed cognitive overload.
As these smart people do, they came up with a theory for it:
Go ahead and chuckle. I did.
Load Theory states that we only have so much “attention space” at any given time.
Think of your mental capacity as a bucket that can only be loaded to a certain point before it begins to overflow.
Some of the space in the bucket is used up by “Automatic Processes” – the minimum number of mental processes needed to complete a given task or deal with a given situation.
These automatic processes can vary in level depending on the situation.
For example, if someone is giving you directions to a destination in your town, you are most likely going to need very few Automatic Processes to understand the directions and complete the task (i.e. arrive at the destination).
However, if you are in an unfamiliar town and in need of directions, it will likely take a larger number of Automatic Processes (and a GPS system) to get to your destination.
The number of Automatic Processes needed for a given task or situation is based on an individual’s familiarity and prior knowledge of the task or situation.
Think of this in terms of your job. If you take on a new task or project that is similar to something you have done in the past – it is most likely going to be much easier to begin to put together some sort of action plan for the project than it would be if there were no familiar aspects to the project.
These Automatic Processes are not limited to just directions and projects.
They are also related to the primary stressor in all of our lives that I keep mentioning:
Take a moment to think about the difference in the “mental energy” you use when you interact with someone who, for the most part, behaves consistently, compared to the “mental energy” you use when you interact with someone with mood swings, inconsistent behavior, or anger problems.
The remainder of space in the bucket is taken up by Controlled Processes.
You guessed it. These are the processes under your control.
They consist of your: behaviors, thoughts, decisions, and perception about a specific situation.
Put simply, if you are confident that we can “deal” with a given situation then these controlled processes do not take up much space and you’re able to maintain focus.
However, as is often the case with your daily stressors, you feel little-to-no sense of control.
As a result, your attempts to control the situation take up a great deal of space in the bucket – leaving you little-to-no space left to focus.
You need to learn how to empty the bucket.
“Can we just get rid of the stressors?”
Because they are almost always caused in one way or another by people – including, oftentimes, ourselves.
“But how are we the cause of our own stress?”
We forget about ourselves during our busy day.
the list goes on…
In the midst of all of this we forget to check in with ourselves and the update on our daily progress.
If this happens once in a while, it’s no big deal and life goes on.
However, it doesn’t happen once in a while.
We forget to take care ourselves during the course of our day just about EVERY DAY.
As a result, the “negative stress” is occurring to some degree or another every day.
It does not have to be any sort of major event.
In fact, it is the small, regular doses of negative stress that significantly contribute to nearly all of the health problems that either directly (e.g. heart disease, stroke) or indirectly (e.g. drinking, smoking) cost our country billions of dollars each year in health care expenses and lead to more negative stress.
And then the cycle continues.
See you in Part 3 to discuss what we can do to change this cycle…