When Failure Looms What Helps When You are Genuinely Distracted

Dilemma #3: Genuinely Distracted

Join our community in helping folks solve this dilemma (I am no longer doing this formally through my website, but if you have questions, see my All the Links page to ask them on any site where I’m participating regularly.)

“No matter how hard I try, when I sit down to work on a project, I can only go for about 20 minutes and then I get frustrated and stop. Sometimes I’ll play a game or watch videos, and sometimes I just stare into space. Then my project ends up being turned in late, if at all. Any ideas for how I can get things done? ” -Genuinely Distracted-

Genuinely Distracted

General things to keep in mind when helping folks with their dilemmas:

– Validate first and last. When someone is asking for help, they can be very fragile and need a lot of reassurance. So even if you have to be very direct and possibly discouraging (reality testing) in the middle, start and end with something positive.

– Look for practical things you have knowledge about. If you have experience with something they’re experiencing, share it, and if you know of some resources that might help, share them.

– Don’t be afraid to be blunt if you see problems with the way they’re looking at the problem that are causing them to focus on the wrong thing. We want their ladder on the right wall.

– If you’ve felt how they feel now, and you found a way through it, sharing that and being vulnerable about it can be a huge help.

My response to the above dilemma:

“Hi, Genuinely Distracted. Me too! I mean distraction is caused by SO MANY different things. Let’s start with some basic stuff. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy and moving your body (and your bowels) regularly? Do you feel safe physically and emotionally where you are attempting to concentrate? If the answer to any of these is “no”, those are probably the first things to work on.

“Get help from a friend to keep you focused, and if things don’t get better, maybe get evaluated for an attention disorder or another mental health issue that is keeping you from concentrating. Best of the best for you!

“Also, I’m *so* glad you signed it “genuinely distracted”, because that reminds me of something: A lot of people were disbelieved throughout their childhood by parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives when they said they “couldn’t concentrate” and were told they just didn’t “try hard enough”. You did. You did try hard enough. And the people who might have been able to help you, didn’t help you enough. You’ve got this. I believe in you.


Some specific ideas for distraction, after addressing the basics of personal and safety needs

– Masking sounds such as music, audiobooks, nature sounds, the sounds of people in a cafe, etc., can be very helpful.

– “Doubling”, or enlisting a trusted person to simply *be* with you while you work, can be helpful.

– Breaking tasks into 25, 20, or even 10-minute spurts of work with timed rest periods in between (anything from 5 to 30 minutes).

– Incorporating both movement and some sort of mindfulness routine into your life on a regular or semi-regular basis.

– completely rejecting the idea of perfection. Go ahead and make mistakes, early and often, as you work. Then correct them later, if it doesn’t turn out that they were just fine and good enough.

– if all else fails, or at any point between, seek professional help. Get evaluated for ADHD or another issue causing distraction issues and work with your professional on medications or other interventions that assist.

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1 Comment on “When Failure Looms What Helps When You are Genuinely Distracted

  1. Nana Jenni’s got some good points.

    I’m super distracted nearly all the time, and I’ve had to learn how to listen to my body and then be honest with myself about what it’s telling me. Sometimes it’s telling me to put down the pipe so I can air out and concentrate. Sometimes I just need to get up and move. A set of pushups off the kitchen counter gives me the illusion of a workout while being just enough movement to get things working again. Sometimes my brain just starts buzzing like a beehive that’s been kicked and the only solution to that is funtime, which I am admittedly terrible about withholding. (I’m a writer FFS, I should be more excited to be in my worlds than in anyone elses.)

    I have found that a period of meditation every morning is incredibly beneficial. At first, concentration was impossible. My space was loud and messy and I could never seem to get on top of the housework long enough to feel like I was in a space to address it. Committing myself to one fucking thing a day- one fucking thing I decide to do for myself, has given me a sense of structure without overwhelming me. Man oh man is it hard to build habits when your brain keeps veering off the trail every five minutes, but it was what I needed. Taking command of the space around me helps me to address the chaos inside of me, makes me feel confident and in charge and on top of my shit.

    I. Will. Get. There. Eventually. The momentum is building.