A long while back, I posted an essay about finding ways to tolerate doing certain things that, frankly, I simply dislike doing. The target irritant in that post was dusting. While it’s still not a favorite chore, I’ve been surprised by how much more palatable it’s become since I adjusted my outlook. Instead of viewing the chore as a necessary evil, I’ve been doing my best to consider it an opportunity to appreciate the items I’m dusting. I let myself think about their history and what that history means to me. Simplistic, I know…but it seems to do the trick.
While dusting recently, I started fiddling around with a whimsical toy my husband got back when we were dating. At least, I think we were dating. We might have already been married, and I may or may not have been the one who got it for him. That was about a hundred years ago, so you’ll have to forgive my lack of accuracy.
Anyway, the toy consists of a clown or a jester — or maybe just some guy in his pajamas — that’s suspended on curved wooden bars. When you tap his head or foot just right, he twirls delightfully back and forth from one end of the bars to the other. But if you’re off even a tiny bit when you tap him, he goes all wonky and can twirl himself right off his platform.
Noticing how easy it is to throw this little guy off course got me thinking about the importance of balance for us real people…both physically and mentally.
From a physical standpoint, personal experience has proven I can get knocked off balance in the blink of an eye. I’ve always had a special talent for falling up steps and tripping on air. As I age, that gift just keeps on giving. Fortunately, good bone density has prevented any disasters. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change.
In an attempt to stay as upright as possible for as long as possible, I make sure to incorporate some balance work when I exercise each morning. It’s not a lot, but it seems to help me feel steadier as I go through my day. As a matter of fact, even though I know my klutziness can rear its ugly head at any moment, I have to say that I haven’t tripped on air or fallen up (or down) any steps in quite a while. I attribute that monumental feat to those balance moves. Of course, just to be on the safe side, it might not hurt to throw some salt over my shoulder to keep up the good juju.
From a mental standpoint, the whole concept of staying on track gets trickier because I don’t always know exactly what needs to be balanced…let alone how to go about doing it. This generally occurs during conversations. Sometimes I’m not even aware it’s happening until I’m a mile down the road of some unintended brain tangent. By then, it takes major recalibrating to get back to the present. It’s particularly off-putting when it happens during a discussion that suddenly requires my input. I start off focusing on what’s being said and, without warning, my mind flits to something totally unrelated…and often completely insignificant.
I’ve got ADHD and realize it affects the way I think, but I’m pretty sure this can happen to almost anyone, regardless of their mental fortitude. I’m not talking about technological distractions, although there’s no argument that those are annoying little devilments. I’m talking about more innocuous attention thieves. Sometimes the least little thing can send us twirling off-kilter just enough to make our thoughts wind up somewhere we didn’t expect or want them to be.
My above-referenced diagnosis is fairly mild and, since it doesn’t terribly disrupt my life, I don’t take medication for it. I’m not crazy about pharmaceutical side effects so, for the time being, I’m content to manage my condition on my own. Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t. But even people who don’t share my specific disorder can occasionally find their minds wandering off unattended. It’s like trying to restrain a toddler who just spotted the monkey cage at the zoo.
So what can we do to stop these cerebral jaunts from jacking up our thought processes? I don’t have any solid answers, but I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately. My usual methods of staying on track require tactical exercises inside my head…like silently repeating what someone says so I can keep a grasp on it, or throwing a lasso over each fugitive thought and then mentally dragging it back where it belongs. Sometimes, these are just occasional hiccups. Other times, they seem to happen nonstop and leave me utterly exhausted by the end of the day. It would be nice to find simpler, less cumbersome, ways to tame the wandering beast.
A quick Google search gave credence to at least one of my tried-and-true practices – that of mentally repeating people’s statements in order to ground them in my head. But I came across other suggestions, too.
One recommendation was to maintain eye contact during a conversation. Not constant, unblinking eye contact, of course. That’s just creepy. But creating a sort of eye-to-eye relationship may help a person stay focused on what the other one is saying. I must confess that this is something I struggle with because introverts aren’t generally all that keen on eye contact. But, if doing so can strengthen the connection, it’s worth that little bit of discomfort.
Another tip was to ask questions related to what the person has said. Not only does that show interest, but it can help to mentally cement the conversation. And that makes sense. If our thoughts have concrete feet, they’re a lot less likely to stumble off on their own.
It was also suggested to find a way to surreptitiously make some notes about what was just discussed. If you’re like me and have trouble remembering, jotting it down can serve as both a memory anchor and future reference…just in case that “anchor” somehow gets cut loose. Lord only knows how many anchors are rusting at the bottom of my cranial ocean. Luckily, I’m no stranger to sticky notes.
Although the above ideas aren’t earth-shattering – or even all that original – they’re doable, and I believe they can be effective. I’m actually looking forward to seeing if they’ll help me stay in the here and now when I’m talking to someone. It would be amazing to stop getting mentally waylaid so much.
When it comes to successfully navigating conversations, what I really want is to be like that wooden guy in his PJs. All I have to do is figure out how to perfectly tap myself so I can twirl back and forth along my own little track without the constant worry of falling off.
Right. No pressure.