How often do you apologize for being pre-occupied, reacting inappropriately, or being unnecessarily harsh with someone? How often do you notice yourself stressing? Would you prefer to be more peaceful and productive?
Surprisingly, an ordinary everyday calculator provides a useful analogy for what’s causing your stress, as well as what you can do to solve it.
What’s causing stress
When you say you’re preoccupied or stressed your mind is somewhere else other than where you want it. Where you want it is where you are now e.g. in a meeting, listening to someone you care about, or creatively solving an important problem.
Instead, you divide your attention between what’s in front of you now and another unrelated problem e.g. a domestic issue, a problem with a colleague, or that message from your doctor asking you to come in about your test results.
Splitting your attention
The fact is, we can only really focus on one thing at a time and divvying up our limited attention results in greatly diminishing returns. The next time you’re out in a social situation, try listening to one conversation, then simultaneously listening to two, then three to appreciate what I’m talking about. Notice how your ability to follow the first conversation drops dramatically as you try to follow a second, and how your comprehension drops exponentially as you try to follow a third.
As we move through our day we habitually try to listen to two or more conversations at the same time. We try to listen to the conversation we’re in as well as the conversations in our head about unrelated ideas, issues, concerns and fears from other areas in our lives. In other words, we walk into new situations with our attention already compromised.
The calculator analogy
What’s the first thing you do when you’re about to use a calculator? You hit the CE or ‘All Clear’ key to make sure the memory is clear of any values that might poison the calculation you’re about to perform. You free up the calculator’s attention so to speak, to focus 100% on the problem you’re about to give it.
Dr. Maxwell Maltz in the new Psycho-Cybernetics writes about using the calculator clear key as a metaphor for clearing our minds of the old beliefs responsible for much of what we struggle against. He provides a psychological, scientific explanation for what many new age proponents advocate with the Law of Attraction, Avatar, and Field Training i.e. what you truly believe about yourself and the world manifests as your reality.
Dr. Maltz suggests that we clear our mind of old destructive beliefs in the same way that we clear a calculator’s memory by hitting a figurative AC key in your mind. Not clearing our mind of these historical and contradictory, even destructive, beliefs is why things continue to go wrong for us even though we’re doing all the right things. For example, a deeply ingrained belief like “I’m not worthy of love” explains why someone will go from unsuccessful relationship to unsuccessful relationship and no amount of therapy, or affirmations can help until they obliterate that sabotaging belief, or in the calculator analogy “clear” that belief.
I’m suggesting you use the same calculator metaphor not to clear deeply ingrained beliefs, but simply to remove the residue of recent conversations, concerns, and issues that divert your attention from where it’s needed: here and now.
Figuratively hitting your mind’s Clear key before you begin your next important conversation or meeting is a way to set aside all of your unrelated thoughts, concerns, and fears so that you can focus 100 % on the conversation you’re about to have, or problem you want to solve.
What happens when you don’t hit your Clear key
Forgetting to hit our Clear key has consequences to our productivity, our relationships and in the long-term, even our health.
When you’re stressed you’re less productive, creative and inclined to help. For those around you, you are a potential landmine that can go off if someone says or does the wrong thing, e.g. raise a counter-point, or an eyebrow (like your step-mom used to do whenever you did something wrong).
When you’re stressed, your mind is trying to follow multiple conversations. Like an uncleared calculator, you are bringing old values into an unrelated situation that increase the risk of unhelpfulness, non-solutions, and even violence. Just like with the calculator, not hitting our clear key ensures that unrelated ideas, fears, judgments, opinions etc., enter into our next meeting or discussion and pollute the results.
An uncleared mind affects what we notice, the judgments we make about what we notice, and colors our opinions. No surprise then that we come to less effective solutions—or worsen problems— than if we had entered the situation by hitting our Clear key.
How do we hit our clear key
You already know what works for you, what calms you and allows you to focus. For the most part, the breakdown occurs because we simply don’t take the time to stop and clear our minds or center ourselves before we walk into our next situation e.g. family dinner, or board meeting.
Hopefully, this will remind you to do that, and in a future post, I’ll give some examples of what works for me.
In the meantime, just notice the times when you’re not hitting your mind’s Clear key, and as in the Groucho Marx joke: Stop (not) doing that.