Tag: distraction

An Agreement About Distraction

Distraction is a big issue these days. Too many of us sit in meetings with a room full of people consulting laptops, smartphones, or other devices, and this trend needs to be stopped cold in its tracks.
As a constant advocate for awareness, presence, and focus, I’ve been fighting the pull of technology both personally and in the classes I teach. I get it that technology is addictive. It takes everything I’ve got to put my smartphone in the back seat when I’m driving. Every commercial on TV is an opportunity to check e-mail.
Yet I know it’s not productive to jump back and forth with my attention between two things. Distractions are especially harmful to meetings—and multitasking is a distraction both to the person doing it and to the other people in the group.
If you’re leading a meeting, here is how you might express an agreement about distraction in the setup for your meeting:
I want you to take care of yourselves, and within that agreement, you certainly have my permission to leave the room at any time to check on your family or critical projects. I realize you may have calls you are waiting for or projects you are tracking. Do what you need to do to feel you have that handled. Please use your judgment and look out for yourself. You can also get up at any time to get coffee, stretch, use the restroom.  
That said, I would love your full attention when we are in the meeting so we can really focus the conversation. So check your electronics at the door. I ask this for two reasons: First, because they are distracting to me and to others. Second, because your attention and listening matter to me, to others in the room, and to the quality of our work together.
If you want to put your phone on vibrate, not a problem, unless it vibrates every five minutes. Exceptions are fine; patterns are troublesome. Also, if you want to take notes or use your tablet to refer to background information on our topics, by all means do so. I just ask that you resist the urge to check e-mail or world news. Deal? Thank you.
“The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits,” explains Clifford Nass, coauthor of a Stanford study on multitasking. “They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks—including multitasking.”
Multitasking has no place in meetings. You may think you are able to follow a conversation as you do something else. But your mind does not actually hear and think two things at the same time. It simply switches back and forth very fast. The moment you look at your smartphone and read that text, you miss what is said in the meeting.
The harm in multitasking is twofold. First, your attention matters to everyone else in the room—especially to the person speaking. Speaking to a group that is not paying attention is distracting at the least and hurtful at worst. People identify with their own speaking, so if you aren’t paying attention to what they say, you send the message that you’re not paying attention to them as a person.
Second, if you’re multitasking, you miss the subtleties in what people say and the nonverbal cues in how they say it. You may be able to keep up with the gist of their words, but you will likely miss most of what they are actually saying.

I know I’m fighting uphill here. A colleague was discussing guidelines for a group’s virtual meetings when someone suggested that everyone agree not to work on their computers during the conference call. One supervisor objected because he thought it would interfere with the productivity of some of his people who were exceptional at multitasking!
But in reality only about 2 percent of people are any good at multitasking. “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” argued MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller in a National Public Radio interview. “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
So don’t delude yourself. Be fully present in every meeting—fully focused on the conversation at hand.

Q&A with Rachel Macy Stafford – Part II

I’m delighted to return to the conversation with Rachel Macy Stafford, blogger and author of the book Hands Free Mama and the soon-to-be released Hands Free Life. Rachel talked about her first book in last week’s blog post, so now we’ll turn our attention to Hands Free Life, which will be released September 8.
Paul: Rachel, tell us what inspired you to write your newest book, Hands Free Life.
Rachel: During a late-night chat with my younger daughter when she was sick, Avery said something that moved me deeply. I’d just miscalculated my mother’s age, and my daughter lifted her hands in front of her face. She spread her small fingers as far as they could go and said, “I’m keeping track of life.”
It was such a beautiful term that became almost magical given the way she extended her two free hands. But what made the hairs stand straight up on my arms was the fact that I knew exactly what it meant. Keeping track of life is knowing you’re on your true path toward personal fulfillment. It’s being at peace with who you are and how you are living. It’s placing your head on the pillow at night knowing you’ve connected with someone or something that made your heart come alive. It’s investing in what really matters, understanding full well that managing life is the tendency, but living life is the goal.
What began as small steps to change my distracted, perfectionistic, and hurried existence (that I described in Hands Free Mama) grew into a transformed perspective—one that profoundly altered the way I made decisions, interacted with my loved ones, focused my attention, and spent the precious minutes and hours of my days. Intentional actions to grasp what really mattered evolved into living a life that really mattered. Living a Hands Free life is more profound than putting down the phone or burning the to-do list. It’s about deep, lasting, permanent change. In that moment with Avery, I knew I needed to share what I’d learned with the world.

Paul: Geoff Colvin advocates in his newest book, Humans Are Underrated, that empathy is the critical twenty-first-century skill. In your book, when you are describing your daughter’s ability to notice, it reminded me of raising kids with the ability to relate to others. Do you see the same connection? And how can we train our kids to notice or to be empathetic?
Rachel: Yes. I also see a connection between noticing and the ability to relate to others. That is one of the reasons why I believe we must be aware of our tech use. Our electronic devices severely impact our ability to notice the beauty around us, as well as notice human emotion and need. Our children’s tech use is likely to resemble our tech use—what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while in the company of others is likely what they will do. If we are not “noticing” the world around us, we are teaching our children not to notice either.
One of my most effective strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this: If I want my children to appreciate the softness of a beautiful animal, I must take time to appreciate soft, cuddly creatures. If I want my children to look into the eyes of those who speak to them, I must look into my children’s eyes and listen to their words. If I want my children to extend a helping hand to someone in need, I must notice the needs of others and act upon my heart’s calling to help. I can’t expect the world to show my children that life is best lived with open hands, open eyes, and an open heart. It must come from me.
Lastly, I believe we must incorporate sacred pauses in our daily schedule so there is time to notice the everyday miracles around us. If we are constantly hurrying our children and ourselves through life, we miss the opportunity to notice what is most important. We limit our ability to see the emotions in the faces around us.
Paul: Like you, I’m an advocate of not only spending attentive, quality time with our children, but also of conversing with them in a way that shapes not only them but their view of the world. How have you found that language, words, and conversations shape our children?
Rachel: I’ve found that by commenting on a child’s positive actions, rather than what he or she is doing “wrong,” we can positively impact their life. This is the approach I used when I taught students with behavior disorders. These were children who came to my program after being kicked out of many classrooms and many schools. They came to me so hopeless and so down on themselves. I built them back up by seeing the good, any good, I could find. After all, they’d only heard the bad. I could only imagine what the little voice in their head sounded like, so I tried to create a new voice, a more positive one. Finding a positive with children who were so challenging was not always easy, but it was possible. I said things like:
“Wow! You made it from the pencil sharpener to your seat while keeping your hands to yourself! That is something to be proud of!”
“You wrote your name on your paper. Look how neatly you wrote the letter L! Take a moment and celebrate yourself!”
“You are here. I am so glad you made it school today!”
It was quite amazing how the children began speaking to themselves once the teachers in our classroom and I began pointing out every positive action rather than every negative. By the end of the year, these children were learning, growing, and cooperating in ways no one ever expected. I’ve been using this “Notice the Good” approach with my daughters and even myself and seeing promising results.

Paul: As I read your book, I found myself noting the phrases that you’ve used with your children—phrases that many parents might adapt and begin expressing to their children. For example, I love “I’m right here” as a way of comforting. I also like “No matter what happens, you can always come home.” What phrases or statements do you think might have the most impact on our children?
Rachel: When I began my Hands Free journey five years ago, I did it to free myself from the external distractions, internal pressures, and unrealistic societal standards that prevented me from truly living. But there was an unexpected result: As my distracted ways lessened, my loving ways increased—tenfold. For the first time in my life I saw a direct correlation between my undivided presence and my ability to love my people in ways that most nurtured them. When I was in their presence, I studied them. I listened to them. I watched their faces when I used certain words and tones. I noted what words brought sighs of relief … surges of confidence … and glows of acceptance. I vowed to say those words more. I also noted what words brought shame … disconnection … pain … and silence. I vowed to say those words less. Over time, I collected quite a powerful list of words that helped me love my people in ways that helped them thrive. Like sunlight and water to a plant, these words nourished the deepest parts of their human hearts and fostered growth in all areas of their lives. Hence, I called them Soul-Building Words:
You make my day better. 
You make my life better. 
I love spending time with you.  
Seeing your face makes me happy. 
I’m listening. 
This time is all yours. 
How can I be a better _____ (parent, friend, spouse) to you? 
Nothing is more important than being with you right now. 
How can I help? 
Take your time. You don’t have to rush.  
Keep going. You’ve got this. 
Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can.   
Mistakes mean you are bravely learning and growing. 
It may not be the outcome you hoped for, but I noticed your effort and it was quite remarkable. 
I believe in you.
Paul: Please tell us about the idea, connective silence.
Rachel: I first encountered “connective silence” on a vacation with my husband. I purposefully brought a small suitcase so I wouldn’t be weighed down with choices and excess. So I packed hats and headbands instead of curling irons and blow dyers. I packed blank notebooks and pencils instead of devices and calendars.
In those hours, sitting side by side in beach chairs, my husband and I shared moments of silence. And I called it “connective silence” because in those conversation lulls, I didn’t check out, reach for the phone, the TV remote, or a few pages of unfinished work. That’s when I realized that the greatest opportunity to connect to what really matters sometimes lies in the silent spaces of our day. If we can resist the urge to fill every minute with noise, excess, and activity, we open the doors of our heart, mind and soul to let the joy come in.
Paul: This is my favorite sentence in the book: Having a parent who listens creates a child who believes he or she has a voice in the world. Rachel, can you please expand on this?
Rachel: From first grade through my senior year in high school, I had afterschool chats with my dad at his campus office. I can’t remember a time when he said he couldn’t talk right now, even when he was working on his dissertation, dealing with challenging faculty issues, or facing budget cuts. When I spoke, my dad was all there.
My dad wasn’t perfect. He lost his temper sometimes. He worked too much. He experienced periods of depression. But even through the rough patches, my dad always listened to me. He was never too busy, too distracted, or too desolate to hear my thoughts and opinions. As a result, my dad gave me the confidence to speak up—to speak up in dangerous situations … to speak up for others … to speak up for myself. In situations that I could have suffered in silence, I didn’t. Why? Because my dad listened to me as I grew.
So despite what the critics say—that giving a child our undivided attention creates a child who thinks the world revolves around him or her—I believe otherwise: Having a parent that listens creates a child who believes he or she has a voice that matters in this world.
Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com where she provides simple ways to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters most in life. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama. Her highly anticipated book, Hands Free Life, releases on September 8! It is a book about living life, not managing, stressing, screaming, or barely getting through life. Through truthful story-telling and life-giving Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to respond to our loved ones and ourselves with more love, more presence, and more grace. Those who pre-order Hands Free Life from now until September 7 will receive the FREE e-book of Hands Free Mama. Click here to learn more about the book and pre-order bonus.

Interview with Rachel Macy Stafford, Hands Free Mama: Part 1

I’m honored that Rachel Macy Stafford, author of the blog and book titled Hands Free Mama as well as the soon-to-be released Hands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better, and Loving More, found some time to speak with us about her books.
I love Rachel’s writing—partly because she is a gifted storyteller using everyday life to make salient points. Partly because Rachel’s thinking about raising children parallels mine—that noticing and paying attention and conversation all make a difference. And partly because Rachel is writing about what we all know but rarely act upon—that a chaotic, distracted, technology-filled life isn’t going to be fulfilling.
Changing this is as simple as having one or both of Rachel’s books on your night stand and taking a few minutes each evening to remind yourself of what matters and how to go about making it matter.
Rachel’s first bestseller, Hands Free Mama, asked a wonderfully simple question: “What do you want your children to remember you having in your hands.” So I thought we’d start with her first book.
Paul: Rachel, I’m sure you have hundreds of stories about the impact of your first book on parents and children. What three or four ideas could parents embrace and experience wonderful results?
Rachel: Here are four ideas I advocate in the first book:
1. Give an undistracted goodbye. The day I realized my family’s loving goodbyes were getting lost in the morning rush was painful, but I knew I had the power to bring them back. My daughter made a sign for the door that said: “XOXO Before You Go.” Those ten seconds have become the most important minutes of our day, even as my children age. Before you part ways today, hold your loved ones for at least ten seconds. Hug them tightly. Inhale their scents. Tell them you love them no matter what happened in the frustrating or hurried minutes before that goodbye.
2. Greet them with a “Sun Delay.” When you greet someone with happiness, excitement, interest, and love, the message you are sending is: You are loved. A few years ago, I decided that showing my family I was happy to see them was very important to me. I made a vow to let go of my distractions long enough to cause a “Sun Delay,” which means: No matter what I am in the middle of doing … no matter how inconvenient it is to look up … no matter how ‘busy’ I think I am, when my loved ones walk into the room or return after a separation, the world is going to stop for a moment so I can shine love into their eyes and hearts. Today, let your loved ones see AND feel how much you love them when you are united.
3. Establish a sacred daily ritual. Cherishing every moment in life is simply not possible. There are jobs to do, bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and obligations to fulfill. But there are moments in between life’s obligations when we are in the presence of our loved ones that can be made sacred. Meals at the kitchen table, caring for pets, walks around the block, morning snuggles, afterschool chats, and nightly tuck ins are daily rituals that all hold the potential to be all there—no distractions, no interruptions, just love. In those sacred minutes, relationships can be strengthened, lifelong memories can be made, and peace can come to your frenzied soul.
4. Go public. To increase accountability, announce to family members or a trusted friend your aspiration to live a less-distracted life. A public declaration might sound like this:
I am making an effort to refrain from using the phone while I am driving. I may need your gentle reminders. Would you help me?
I am making an effort to put away my devices from six o’clock to nine o’clock each night. Would you like to do this together?
I am making an effort to use a peaceful response in times of stress and overwhelm. Can you put your hand on your heart when I am hurting you with my words or tone as a reminder of my promise?
Paul: A recent study concluded that a critical part of raising successful children was giving them the ability to converse. How can parents do this?
Rachel: Within just a few weeks of starting my Hands Free journey, I was able to identify several red flag behaviors that prevented me from meaningfully loving, living, and listening. When I found myself doing these particular actions, I said to myself, “Whoa. This is not a behavior I want to see my child imitate. This is not how I want to be remembered when I’m gone.” Part of the vow was this line:
Today I want you to remember my listening face—not my fake listening face, the one that nods robotically and looks right through you. Today I want to love you by listening, really listening.
Out of all the behaviors listed in the vow, the most important one to me is The Listening Face. My dad gave me the gift of The Listening Face throughout my childhood and tumultuous teen years. Looking back now, I am quite certain it saved my life. The fact that my dad valued what I had to say—no matter how unimportant or trivial—gave me the confidence to speak up even in the most intimidating and dangerous situations. It gave me the ability to speak up for my beliefs, my dreams, and for those who could not speak up for themselves. My dad’s listening face gave me a voice.
Here are five practical ways parents can encourage children to converse and demonstrate that their words hold value:
1. Make conditions right: Push aside distractions. Stop doing anything else. Be still. Look into their eyes.
2. Preface the moment with, “I’ve been looking forward to this time together.”
3. Decide there is nothing more important than hearing their words. Decide listening is the most important thing you could be doing right now.
4. If home is too distracting, step outside … walk the dog … grab a quiet table at the coffee shop … go to the library … wash the car. Find quiet spaces where distraction cannot sabotage your moment.
5. Ask a follow-up question about something he or she said in an earlier conversation. This will build trust—trust that you listen, remember, and value what he or she says.

Paul: What is it that you would like every mother and father to be aware of when interacting with their children?  And perhaps the answer is different for fathers and mothers.
Rachel: I would like every parent to be aware of the power of the three-second pause. In the midst of a challenging moment with a loved one, I find it helpful to do a three-second preview of what might result from a hostile reaction. Although I may feel like yelling, controlling the situation, or sighing in exasperation, I have done it enough times to know the result of that choice will not be positive. I will hurt someone. I will not bring reconciliation to the issue. I will create fear. I will experience regret that could last for minutes, days, and even years. I will shut down future communications with my child so that she learns to confide in someone who is less reactive and judgmental. Or worse, she will not tell anyone when she’s in trouble and try to go it alone.
Taking a three-second pause enables us to choose love over anger, hurry, condemnation, shame, or sarcasm. And when love speaks, we are all better heard. And when love looks, we are all better seen.

Paul: What are your best ideas for breaking free of technology?
Rachel: I once wrote, “When you live life distracted, you’re missing more than life.” So celebrate the fact you’ve decided you don’t want to miss the moments in life that matter, and then use these strategies to curb tech use and engage in real-life moments:
1. At least one day of the weekend, give yourself a break and relish the downtime with your family. If your pull to work and ties to technology is too strong to resist at home, go places where there is no electronic distraction and leave the devices at home—the library, a hike, a picnic, museums, farmer’s markets. Not only will you will end up making memories and meaningful connections, you will also find you are rejuvenated and more productive when you return to your work duties.
2. During the workweek, get outside. There is just something about being outside that causes me to abandon my technology and just enjoy nature. Even if it is only for fifteen minutes, go outside and watch your children investigate their surroundings. My children are the best “Hands Free” role models I know. Being outside creates mindfulness that we are part of something much larger than ourselves and our day-to-day problems. Being outside is like a slap in the face to cherish the moments that matter.
3. Refrain from using your phone when driving your children or family members. Use this time to talk to them or play their favorite music and sing together. Ask open-ended questions. Talk about what you are grateful for. Point out picturesque views along the drive. Let your minds wander. It’s okay to not be “doing something” every minute of the day. The car is a good place to think and simply be.
4. When you are with your children/family in “waiting” situations like the doctor’s office, restaurants, events, or activities, resist the urge to look at your phone. This wait time is ideal connection time. If necessary, bring paper, crayons, books, or anything they might enjoy doing with you while you wait. You might be the only person in the waiting room not looking at your phone, and your children will love you for it.
5. Create at least one daily ritual where time with your loved one is sacred, meaning void of distraction. Whether that be tucking them in bed at night, having dinner together, or enjoying morning snuggles, do it every day so that no matter how the rest of the day goes, your child (or significant other) can always count on that one period of connection.

Rachel Macy Stafford is the founder of www.handsfreemama.com where she provides simple ways to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters most in life. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama. Her highly anticipated book, Hands Free Life, releases on September 8! It is a book about living life, not managing, stressing, screaming, or barely getting through life. Through truthful story-telling and life-giving Habit Builders, Rachel shows us how to respond to our loved ones and ourselves with more love, more presence, and more grace. Those who pre-order Hands Free Mama from now until September 7 will receive the FREE e-book of Hands Free Mama. Click here to learn more about the book and pre-order bonus.