Prior to my brain injury I could focus on a task pretty well. If it was a long one I would need short breaks, as anyone would, but I could complete it. But now I can be distracted even before I’ve started.
Yesterday was a simple, although not hugely important example. I needed to put the bin at the end of the drive before I went out that evening to be emptied in the morning.
(If any of you are fans of the British soap Eastenders, don’t worry. I’m not about to copy their most boring story-line ever , complaining about how often the bins are collected.)
It was the general waste bin that was due for collection, but I thought I would take out any recycling on my way. So I collected any plastic bottles and cardboard up and took them to the recycling bin outside. Then I remembered that as James, my partner, would be a while yet before he was home from work I better check I’d locked the door. Ah-ha, no I hadn’t, I’d caught myself almost forgetting a crucial step. Pleased with myself I set off on my journey.
Did you spot my error?
I still hadn’t put the general bin out for collection. It’s not a big deal, James did it when he got home, but it’s frustrating. I’d got distracted simply by congratulating myself for locking the front door. My attention span is so short, that even simple mundane tasks don’t get done.
I don’t want to have to refer to a list for everything I do. Appointments and shopping lists, fine I accept everyone does that. But I don’t think I even could list all the little boring things one does in a day. And if I started trusting my incomplete list, well there really would be no hope.
Why do we get distracted?
It’s partially to do with our inhibitions. Between each temple is the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) which plays a big role in this. It’s this system that helps us stay focused by putting the breaks on things that can distract us. But as we are wired to respond quickly to danger, this system only works for short periods of time.
What can we do about it?
Apparently it’s about timing. Once you start doing something it takes more effort to stop than it does to start. Our brains run on glucose and are energy hungry, so if it has to put more effort into one task, it has less ability to do the next. Particularly if you have a brain injury this is an issue. So you have to try to notice that you’re starting something that doesn’t have to be right now. If I’d finishing putting the bin out, I probably would have still remembered to lock the door. But because I allowed that process to be interrupted I became distracted.
In short, just do one thing at a time. If you need to you can write an emerging thought down, or in my case, I could have kept saying to myself “lock the door” as I wheeled the bin.
Have you become more distracted since your brain injury? What do you find helps you stay focused?