Is That (distracting) Thought Helping You or Hurting You?

Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t focus? Are you attracted to all the shiny things at least sometimes?

If you’re human, the answer is yes! Our brains, engorged with way more information that we can handle in one moment, often skip from thought to thought. Being distracted – or unable to concentrate because your mind is preoccupied – gets in the way of performing and feeling your best.  If you can’t finish a test, score the winning goal, charm your date, or win over your interviewer because your attention wavers in a critical moment, an amazing experience may be lost. So, what can you do about distracting thoughts?

We each experience life as a plotline based around ourselves. This is especially important to remember when facing negative thoughts. They’re usually just fragments of the never-ending stories we tell ourselves, a ceaseless stream of you-based monologue. Just as you must eventually snap out of a movie to return to the real world, you need to be able to at least temporarily disengage from your thoughts if you want to show up in the here-and-now. These steps can help you determine if a distracting thought is worth your time:

  1. The first thing is to know that your distracting thoughts aren’t necessarily the truth.  Label these thoughts as “thinking”. You can even say, “thinking” silently or aloud to yourself.
  2. Go beyond true or false, and remind yourself that some distracting thoughts might be partly true. But because thoughts aren’t complete truths, often they’re blown way out of proportion. Yes, even yours.
  3. Ask yourself, is having this distracting thought helping you or hurting you? It’s helping you if it enables you to avoid actual danger. If it’s not and it’s rousing negative emotions like sadness, anger, or jealousy, it might be compounding the problem by inhibiting accurate thinking and optimal action.
  4. Ask, “What else is true?” What could you intentionally think instead that would be more helpful? 
  5. Now generate those alternative thoughts that are more accurate and useful.

Becoming distracted by negative thoughts – especially in the midst of a positive experience – can rob you of the well-being that can come from good feelings, high performance, and harmonious interactions with others. So try these five steps when dark thoughts imperil your otherwise awesome experiences.

And remember…If you struggle to get unstuck on your own, you can seek help from a qualified professional like a physician, psychologist, therapist, or coach. I recommend it!

About the author

Sherri Fisher, MEd, MAPP, executive coach and learning specialist, uncovers client motivation and focus for perseverance. She has decades of successful experience working with students, parents, and professionals who face learning, attention, and executive function challenges at school, home, and work.

Related Posts