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Why do I keep getting distracted?

And what to do about it

“I know what I need to do, but I keep getting sidetracked,” is a common theme among my clients. If only you could get away from Facebook, email, and the phone that keeps ringing as soon as you start a new task, you would achieve so much.


I’ve been there too. I’ve started my days with to-do lists (the length of Mississippi). I’ve installed productivity programs (that just kept distracting me). I vowed to turn off social media until every last bit of work had been done. I even bribed myself with hot chocolate and shopping trips and good books. And it all worked – for a day or two.


When I used up every planning trick up my sleeve, but still couldn’t stay focused, I felt something was seriously wrong with me. Why am I so lazy? Why don’t I have discipline? I kept thinking.


Thankfully, with a lot of introspection and the help of a wonderful coach, I learned that there was nothing wrong me with. The reason I succumbed to distractions had nothing to do with focus, or laziness, or discipline. It was just a product of fear. What if I give it my all and it won’t work? What if I can’t make something perfect? How will people judge me based on this work? my mind kept telling me.


That fear was keeping me from doing my work, because as long as I didn’t dare, as long as I didn’t make the effort, as long as I didn’t fail, I could think of myself as smart and capable and worthy. But what would happen if I did try and fail? Wouldn’t that just show that I am not any of these things, that in reality I can’t?!


For me, the redemption came when I realized my self-worth was not dependent on the outcome of my actions. Fast-forward several years, and today, for my clients, redemption comes in all shapes and forms. From conditional acceptance, to doubt in one’s knowledge, to feeling small and insignificant, each one of us has a thinking pattern that prevents us from doing the best we can.


Since we have been thinking these thoughts for years, we have become experts at them. Yet, surprisingly, they are not so difficult to overcome. The first step is simple realizing what it is that is standing in your way. And it’s never the externalities, the symptoms, or the actions.


Once you figure out the negative thought pattern, you can deconstruct it. From my experience, as soon as a person identifies the underlying thought, God sends her innumerable ways of unlearning it.


Just last week, “Rachel” told me she lacked confidence in her expertise as a teacher. We discussed the issue at length and she working through it with several family members. That’s when the magic began! In just a couple of days, her professor praised her in public for her knowledge; her husband told her she should stop taking so many classes and put her hard-earned skills to good use; and a colleague attended her class and asked to be critiqued.


“Rachel” will need to do much more work to strengthen her confidence, but today she is in a completely different place than where she was just a week ago. Now, she can finally start working on that project she has been dreaming about, but did not dare touch.


So what is it that is keeping you from doing your best work?