The Baggage Brought By Distractions

Yesterday was one of those unusually memorable days in my 20+ year career as an author and professional speaker. A company had invited me to speak to their directors and assistant directors at their annual meeting... in Maui! If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I love to travel and see new places. I also love hearing about the travel experiences of others. I had never been to Maui, and I had heard so many positive things about the island.

While waiting for my first flight, I wanted to just reflect on all the positive experiences I would have on this trip... but I couldn't. I was traveling on an airline where I am not a preferred flyer, so I had made the choice to "carry on" my roller board suitcase instead of checking it and paying  the $25. Even while driving to the airport, the baggage dilemma had kept popping into my head. Sitting at the gate, my mental time was spent wondering if there would be room for my bag overhead. As we prepared to board I kept looking around trying to figure out how I could get in the line as quick as possible when my zone was called. It wasn't until I was on the plane, in my seat, and with my luggage overhead that I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I also told myself that next time, I would pay the $25.

My "first world" problem, albeit trivial, reminds me of how we create distractions in our day. We don't take care of our mental baggage in such a way that our mind can let go of it. Whether it's an unfinished task at work, a project at home, or merely a conversation with a co worker that needs to be finished so decisions can be made, they all weigh down our brains and limit our ability to focus on the present moment. We try to push them to the back of the line, but as I learned when writing my blog about the Zeigarnik Effect, our brains don't like leaving things unfinished or dealing with uncertainty.

In my situation yesterday, the simple solution would have been to invest the resources to check the bag. To limit the mental baggage we drag around in our day, some suggestions include:

  • Define what "finished" means for every task. If your mind and your actions are in sync, your brain won't have a reason to keep reminding you about the task.
  • Keep a running list of mental baggage. Don't sit and try to write them out. Just notice when they pop into your thoughts and capture them in a list. When you have a break in your day, review the list and see if you can take action to finish them-or at least move them closer to completion.
  • Handle it right now. If the baggage is so debilitating to your focus that you aren't doing your best work, stop trying to push through it. Make the call, have the conversation, or take some time off to handle the issue. I remember being in a meeting a few months ago and the thought popped into my head that I had not scheduled payment for one of my credit cards. I tried to pay attention to those around me, but the thought of a late fee was all I could think about. I excused myself from the meeting, logged into my account, and in 5 minutes was back in the meeting fully focused on the agenda.

The real danger brought by this mental baggage is that you miss the joy of the present moment, whether it's the anticipation of a trip to a beautiful place, a tender moment with a loved one, or fully hearing what a co worker or your boss is saying to you. Don't make the mistake I made on my trip. Check your mental baggage so you can enjoy every moment of the amazing journey that is today.

What's the mental baggage weighing down your thoughts today?