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Six Techniques for Preventing Mental Leakage

Ahhhhh… Finally. Alone at last. Guaranteed no interruptions. You’ve finally got the Time Lock you negotiated with your boss and co-workers. They were not thrilled about the notion of your closeting yourself while they picked up your calls and protected you from interruptions. But you made a good case for it and promised to reciprocate, which sealed the deal. That means you have three blessed hours to focus on writing that big proposal you’ve been trying to get to all week.

You’re already gloating, “Now, finally, with no interruptions, I can start writing without forgetting where I was, without making mistakes, without do-overs and restarts. Instead of spending two interrupted days on this proposal, I’ll get it all done, with excellence, in an afternoon!”

I’m sorry, you’re wrong. Not to discourage you about the wisdom of Time Locking, but you gloated too soon. There’s one more thing you need to learn about your Time Bandits. You may have negotiated an agreement with your Time Bandit colleagues, and they won’t be interrupting you. But lurking in the confines of your very own Time Locked office, in fact in your very own subconscious, still thieving away, is the most insidious, persistent, dangerous, stubborn, and inflexible of all your Time Bandits: You.

You are, after all, a full-fledged creature of the Interruption Culture. You have become habituated to “controlled chaos,” perhaps you believe you thrive on multi-tasking. Left alone, it is natural that you find yourself with one ear cocked for the ringing phones or the visitor needing “just a minute.” It is natural that you crave a dose of your addiction: the interruption you are Time Locking against.

And that’s not all. (Again, not to discourage you – remember, I end this column with six tips to fix the problem.) But when you find yourself in your prized Time Lock, you will also find yourself struggling against another thief, this one called Mental Leakage.

What is Mental Leakage? It is the loss of concentration we experience precisely when we most want to bear down. It is that powerful mental compulsion that makes our minds wander. We are not masters of our own minds. We daydream. When what we’re doing doesn’t engage us tightly enough, our mind wanders to more attractive subjects – our next holiday, the coming weekend, what’s for lunch. We worry. Will that big contract come through? What will the X-rays show? Are the kids getting a good education? Will I make it to the drycleaner before closing?

The antidote to this intellectual incontinence? Focal Locking. Focal Locking battles against the psychological and uncontrollable fact of life that all of us, at some level and to some degree, lose concentration, particularly when we are told (or when we tell ourselves) to fully concentrate on the task at hand. In fact, an increasing portion of the world’s population is diagnosed with some form of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

In 1890, William James, in his textbook Principles of Psychology, wrote, “Concentration: It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state.” Since the condition of interrupting ourselves is habitual, pervasive, and addictive, it takes more to concentrate than just self-discipline, just as giving up heroin requires more than, “No thanks, not today.” It requires a mental paradigm shift. That’s Focal Locking.

Before you enter your Time Lock, make note of these six techniques for helping you stem Mental Leakage. Take them with you, and call them up as needed.

1. Transcending the Environment

Transcending the environment is to rise above physical issues that you cannot change. Consider the air conditioning in your facility. If you spent your time thinking, “Oh, the air conditioning is down, and I’m sweating. It’s ruining my shirt, and it’s too hot,” you increase your discomfort by focusing on the heat. But if you distract yourself from the heat, not only do you decrease your discomfort, but you’re functional. You have to keep cool in the face of the fact that the lack of air conditioning is making you physically warm. You are not a thermometer, obliged to rise when it’s hot and drop when it’s cold.

2. Constructive Acceptance

Constructive Acceptance means accepting that which you cannot change and doing so graciously, not grudgingly. When I was seventeen, I was a good basketball player with a dream to play in the NBA and a chance at a basketball college scholarship. I could play power forward and guard, but I wanted to be a center. I was only 6’2” while Wilt Chamberlain, a contemporary of mine, was already 7’2”. However, I thought I could still grow or else be the shortest and most effective center in the history of basketball. So guess what? I never got that scholarship, and I was always sorry.

3. Visualizing the Ideal Self

Visualize yourself in a Focal Lock when suddenly a negative thought or distraction arises. Now, replace it with a positive thought or idea.

One affirmative technique I use is to visualize my ideal self as a winner in a given situation. The premise is that if you can see what it would be like for your ideal self to transcend a challenge, and if you could then inhabit your ideal self, you would be able to Focal Lock with complete success. Great athletes pump themselves up before a competition by visualizing themselves winning. Attorneys do it before they go to trial, and business executives giving critical presentations prepare the same way.

4. Positive Affirmation
When I first heard the Nike positive affirmation commercial, “Just Do It.” I found it simplistic and silly. But I gamely gave it a try and was converted. Now, whenever I use my version, “I can do it,” my first intention is to program my subconscious mind through conscious thought to think positive. My second intention is to give myself an adrenaline rush. When you get a positive thrust in your mind from a phrase, it’s that concept of Pavlovian conditioning. The mental causes the physical. Give it a chance to develop meaning, utility, and a connection between the physical and the mental. A friend likes to insist, “I LIKE this” until she does. Find what works for you.

5. Psychological Counterpunching

In the 1960s, one of the world’s great all-time heavyweight champions, Muhammad Ali, was best known for his ability to counterpunch. Counterpunching is more than just punching back, trading punch for punch. It is “the art of making him miss, then making him pay. A good counterpuncher will hit without being hit. But just as importantly, he can make the opponent so scared to throw a punch that his offense dissolves away, leaving him gun-shy and helpless.” Here is how you can use the counterpunching technique.

1. Think of yourself as Muhammad Ali.
2. Your Mental Leakage Time Bandit throws a negative affirmation right cross. He says: “No you can’t finish that project, you are getting tired.
3. You block the right cross with your first positive affirmation left cross. You say: “Yes I can.
4. Ultimately, you knock out your opponent with a second positive affirmation right uppercut. “Just do it.

6. Changing Your Internal Computer Chip

The human brain is like a computer memory chip. Once a pattern has been embedded into that computer chip, we must do something different to change it. It is not enough to simply say stop doing a negative behavior. You must replace an old behavior with a new behavior. While attempting to learn to play golf, I would slice the ball way off to right and generally into the rough or the trees. My friends watching me play would say, “You are lifting your head.” By lifting my head, the face of the club would not make contact with the ball at the “sweet spot.” I would hear the same advice over and over again, “Keep your head down.” But the memory chip in my brain, the muscle memory if you will, would not let me do it.

A golf pro finally saved me. He placed a penny next to the ball and said, “Don’t take your eye off the penny. Concentrate through your entire swing staring at the penny and not at the ball. Your shoulder will naturally pick up your head at the end of the swing.” I tried it and I hit a ball a straight as I could ever have hoped for. Staring at the penny was the new chip. By practicing this over and over again, you can create a new memory chip in your brain.

Use each technique as needed. Let them trigger your mastery of focal locking so that you can bear down on the task at hand. Now, go and enjoy your Time Lock!

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About Edward G Brown

Edward G. Brown had no time to write this book, which is exactly why he wrote it. Bronx born and bred, he co-founded the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group, now in 50 countries and 12 languages. Its past and present clients include…