Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Memoir of a cluttered mind

by Judith Evans Thomas

With each passing year I find that my ability to concentrate for long periods of time has decreased. At first I assumed it was the process of aging or, going to extremes, a brain tumor. Worse yet, Altzheimers. I watched my stepfather die of that and quickly put it out of my mind. Or did I stop concentrating and just forget? I obsessed over this decreased ability for a couple of months until I had put myself into a real funk.

Last week I googled "concentration" and aside from a dizzying array of sites offering to help me, motivate me, cure me, and medicate me, one paragraph stood out as if it had been dipped in fluorescent paint and shot through the screen.

And this is the first paragraph that has changed my life:

Self Talk
Many people are not aware that as we perform tasks, including studying, we talk silently to ourselves. "Self talk" can be motivating - praising accomplishments, helping to sort out what to do next, monitoring progress and achievement. However, if it becomes overly evaluative or critical, self talk can have a negative effect on concentration. Have you ever started to write a paper, then given up in frustration because you can't even get through the first paragraph? An overly critical "inner editor" may be the culprit. Comparing your abilities to that of other students and having unrealistic expectations about how long or well you "should" be able to concentrate may also contribute to negative self talk. With coaching, you can learn to manage this distracting internal chatter.

Do you talk to yourself while writing? I do. It is distracting and tiring... like writing twice... without editing. I'm doing it now while writing this. I hear the words in my head and think about how they will read. Too much chatter kills the inner muse.

The second factoid that jumped out at me was the one about clutter. My desk is filled with "things to do." One folder marked "urgent" contains bills, thank you notes I need to write, column deadlines with ideas, to do lists about my novel, agent, kitchen granite and trip schedules. And this is when I realized that there was nothhing wrong with my mind. I was cluttered and chatty.

How do you deal?


Anonymous said...

Funny you should blog about this topic today, Judith, since it's the first day of the new year for me---the day when I de-clutter my head and get back to work on my manuscript. I'm stripping all the stuff out of my life that will derail my concentration. Thanks for the pep talk!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Judith! I've found that lately (OK, maybe not just "lately") I find myself going downstairs for something and then wondering, once I got there, what it was I wanted. With my dad in the midst of Alzheimers, that's always the first thing that pops into my head. But the inner chatter sounds like a much more plausible reason.

Anonymous said...

Creative people like ourselves are always thinking about several things at once. I have been forgetful my entire life, so when I am older, I'll know not to blame it on age. My mind has always been thinking about something more exciting than what I'm actually doing. Right now, I'm thinking about busting out my paints. hmmm. good idea.

Thanks, Judith, that was an interesting topic for today.

Anonymous said...

When my thoughts are scrambled and I can't remember something, I like to tell people my brain is full. It can't possibly hold any more information.

Anonymous said...

I can sure relate to the "negative self-talk" issue. What I've decided about myself is I find it easier to add something than to eliminate it. So I started working on positive pep talks to replace my interal chatter. I can't say I do it all the time, but sometimes I catch myself going spontaneously into the, "You can do it!" speach.

Anonymous said...

Thanks all. De clutter sounds wonderful. So what do I do with the bills? :)

I think we all need to share a secretary/assistant who will do it for us.