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My to-do list distracts me

I get distracted easily.

I might be reading a book aloud to my kids, but inside, I’m being reminded that we’re out of milk, that the dishes need done, that I forgot about so-and-so’s birthday, that I need to order soap, that I never finished the science unit we started last month, that one of my kids needs some quality alone time with me, that I never called that friend back, that I need to schedule dentist appointments, and on, and on.

My brain is like a to-do list that never stops listing.

In any given moment, it reminds me of all the things I’m forgetting about, haven’t gotten to yet, and might be failing at.

It seems useful, but it is so distracting.

Is your brain like mine?

Are you focused and present, or easily distracted by the noise in your head? When is the last time you were fully present while homeschooling?

What would it be like to read a book to your kids, without all the noise in your head?

Let me tell you, it’s amazing.

As a former list-er, I’ve learned a few tricks to help my brain settle down and stay present in the moment, learning to less stress, more quality time with my family, and more productivity.

How do I do it? I expect, watch, process, and follow.

Let me explain, but first, make sure that you have a plan for your day. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but make sure you have some general sense of what you will be doing. Otherwise, getting distracted IS the plan, and that’s not a problem. This method will help you if you have a plan and keep getting distracted though.

Here’s a sample plan:

9 - 12 read aloud, board game, reading lessons, history

12 - 3 lunch & dinner prep, science, nature walk

3 - 5 kids free play, piano practice, my project

5 - 7 dinner & clean up, family time

Ready? Let’s go…

1. Expect

As you begin your schedule, however loose or rigid, get ready for some emergency thoughts to show up! (Emergency thoughts are those thoughts that pop up reminding you of everything you should be doing, everything you forgot, and everything you might be missing!)

Instead of being surprised that they are there, expect them.

Your brain is scanning the world for danger. It wants to remind you of everything that could go wrong in order to protect you. The problem is, I am no longer in danger of a tiger eating me. True emergencies are rare. If my house really were on fire, I wouldn’t have to think about it, I would just react. The problem is that most of the things that my brain is currently warning me of, are not true emergencies, and I’m still reacting.

Expecting the emergency thoughts is the first step to calming them.

Stop being surprised. Of course your brain is able to rapid fire off a million thing you should be doing.

It is incredibly intelligent and engineered for greatness.

Nothing has gone wrong.

2. Watch

As in, watch the thoughts go by.

When a thought enters your head about something you should do, should have done, or forgot, separate yourself from the thought, by recognizing that that is all it is - a thought. Nothing more. You don’t have to answer it, or take action. It is not an emergency.

When you are in the habit of answering “emergency thoughts” with changing your plans, your brain will keep offering them, because it learns that you will stop doing the hard thing of following through with your plan, to do the easier thing of answering it’s beck and call. (It might not seem easier, but to your brain that likes to act on a whim, it is easier to not follow a plan.)

So you have to start by changing the response in order to re-train your brain.

Watch the emergency thoughts as if they were balloons floating across the sky. You don’t need to reach out and grab the strings, or pull them down to you, just let them be there.

Your brain will never stop offering you emergencies. This step is where you recognize them for what they are - just suggestions, and start ignoring them.

There is no fire and no one is dying.

Let the thoughts be there without believing that there is an emergency.

3. Process

…your emotions.

When your brain tells you that you forgot something and you watch the thought go by, you still might feel the emotion associated with the thought.

So if I think “I forgot to call my sister on her birthday!” I might feel guilt.

Instead of reacting, changing plans, calling my sister right then, or NOT calling her, but feeling terrible all day, I just allow my body to feel guilt, and process it. Emotions move through our bodies in 10 minutes or less usually.

Instead of using the emotion as a reason to change plans, just feel the emotion. Feel some guilt and let it move through you. (If this sounds weird, send me a message and I’ll teach you how!)

4. Follow

Follow your plan no matter what.

(Even if the reminder your brain gave you seems important. Do not answer it!)

When you make a schedule and follow through, you become the boss of your life, not the emergency side of your brain.

When you retrain your brain to know that you will not take action based on emergency thoughts, you will teach it to stop interrupting your day with distractions.

My brain thinks there are constantly emergencies. Urgent things that I am missing, and it is trying to help me by pointing them out.

But I no longer fight fires....I plan ahead, and follow the plan.

I plan on my brain being distracted (step one), and when it interrupts with “You forgot ______!!!” I watch it (step two), then I process the emotion created by that thought (worry, shame, guilt, urgency, etc.) (step three), and follow through with my schedule even though my natural reaction is to solve the problem (step four).

What it all boils down to is increasing my capacity to feel terrible, without needing to solve it or react. (I know this sounds terrible, but it's the opposite. Being willing to feel terrible without making it an emergency is where your power lies!)

I just feel worried, and stick to my schedule.

Later, when I plan the next day, I’ll include that thing I remembered, if needed. Until then, no one will die.

Following my schedule tells my brain that I am the boss, not emergencies.

Thoughts still come, but I move through them and stick to my plan, and that means that I get so much more done.

I'm still distracted, but it's a different kind of distraction. One of peace and acceptance rather than panic and fear.

Life is better on this side.

I invite you to schedule a consult with me if you're ready to drop your to-do list focused brain for good. Click here.

P.S. Click here for that free consult. Future you will thank you. :)

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