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The Discipline of Choice:
Mastering Focus and Avoiding Distraction in an Age of Endless Possibilities
"Don’t face complex issues head-on; first, understand simple ideas deeply. Clear the clutter and expose what is important. Be brutally honest about what you know and don’t know. Then see what’s missing, identify the gaps, and fill them in. Let go of bias, prejudice, and preconceived notions. There are degrees to understanding (it’s not just a yes-or-no proposition), and you can always heighten yours. Rock-solid understanding is the foundation for success." ~ Dr. Edward B. Burger
In this lovely crazy, information-overloaded, beautiful world, it can be hard to focus. I was never tested for ADHD, and I am unsure if I have elements of it or if I am just too enthused to learn as much as possible about everything.
I admit it is an excellent way to drive yourself to a whipped state of FOMO (fear of missing out), in turn causing toxic anxiety and lack of focus.
Jk. Rowling said, "Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery."
Still, the book that stands out as the best place to get a grounding on understanding what needs to be done first is my favourite book in this genre by Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
In Greg’s words,
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.
How can we decide in ways that enable us to have a more significant potential within ourselves? If we don't intentionally choose where to direct our energy and time, others—such as bosses, coworkers, clients, or family—will decide for us, causing us to lose track of what's valuable and significant. We can make conscious choices or let others' priorities govern our lives, and I’ve been there and done that.
Becoming an Essentialist requires a heightened awareness of our ability to choose. In her popular and informative book, The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar wrote, "We can choose what we want to want."
Having just retired from active, hands-on business ownership and operation for 35+ years, I am learning to let go and listen to my inner spirit as a recovering workaholic to choose my next steps.
To truly understand what's vital, I needed room to reflect, time to observe and listen, the freedom to explore creatively, the wisdom to rest, and the rigour to apply discerning judgment. This writing journey is beneficial in helping me, and I hope it will also be for readers.
You may be or are not in the same space I found myself in, but here are a few tips from the authors I mentioned above.
Greg McKeown is a bestselling author, public speaker, and leadership consultant. He's best known for his work on prioritization and decision-making.
Essentialists spend as much time exploring, listening, debating, questioning, and thinking as possible. But their exploration is not an end in itself. The exploration aims to discern the vital few from the trivial many.
"Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it's about how to get the right things done."
"If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will."
"The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default."
"Sometimes what you don't do is just as important as what you do."
"Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter."
"The pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure. Put another way; success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place."
Cal Newport is an American author, professor, and productivity expert. He is known for his work in computer science, productivity, and personal development. Newport gained prominence through his books on optimizing work habits, time management, and digital minimalism.
"The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill and then make it the core of their working life will thrive."
"Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don't simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction."
"The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration."
"Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not."
Nir Eyal is an author, lecturer, and investor known for his expertise on the intersection of psychology, technology, and business.
In his book, "Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life," Eyal shifts his focus from creating habit-forming products to how individuals can understand and manage their habits, particularly in digital distractions. Eyal's work has attracted attention from the technology industry and those concerned with the ethical implications of habit-forming technology.
"The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do."
"Habits are good. Our brains have developed to stop thinking consciously about everything we do. Can you imagine if we had to think about every little thing we do all day long?"
"You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from."
"The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought."
"Distraction starts from within, and to conquer it, we must control the internal triggers that lead to distraction."
"Becoming indistractable is not about avoiding distractions at all costs; it’s about learning how to do what you say you’re going to do."
"The opposite of distraction is not focus. It is traction."
James Clear is an author, speaker, and productivity expert focusing on decision-making, continuous improvement, and habit formation.
Clear's book "Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones" was published in 2018 and became a bestseller. In this book I have gifted many times, he explores how tiny changes can lead to remarkable results, emphasizing the power of compound growth. He lays out a framework for building positive habits and breaking negative ones, grounded in the science of human behaviour and cognitive psychology.
Clear's approach to personal development focuses on actionable advice grounded in scientific research and practical experience, making his work popular among those seeking to improve themselves in various aspects of their lives.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
"The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits."
"Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy."
"Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become."
"Habits are not a finish line to be crossed; they are a lifestyle to be lived."
"The more you master the art of small changes, the less you have to rely on motivation."
To ignore distractions while working, create a dedicated workspace free from interruptions and utilize technology to block distracting websites. Break work into manageable tasks and combine them with time management techniques like the Pomodoro Technique. Communicate boundaries with those around you to minimize interruptions, and consider practicing mindfulness or brief meditation to center your focus.
But never give up trying to improve; Thomas Edison shared wisdom when he said, "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
Now procrastination is a totally different story.
I am wishing you all the best in your journey.