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Resources for Writers

Switching from Mindless to Mindful by Annmarie O’Connor

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Article by Annmarie O'Connor ©.
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My name is Annmarie and I’m a recovering distraction junkie. I never thought I had a problem until I was faced with a 10-car pile-up on the slippery slope of my own undoing. It’s hard to focus when your attention is lying there, fractured in about 10 different places. Not that I noticed.

Here’s what happened. I had spent the past few hours at my laptop answering random emails, watching BuzzFeed videos (10 Bad-ass Pets Owning Instagram!), liking and sharing Facebook posts and poking around Twitter while editing the seventh chapter of my first book The Happy Closet. I had more tabs open than a singles bar on a Friday night. And things were about to get interesting. Somewhere in the middle of that mental orgy was a straight-laced party crasher telling me to put on my clothes before I made a big mistake. Too late. My attention wasn’t merely fractured; it had been splintered into little glass shards, one of which was about to cut me to the quick. Having proofed and fine-tuned my copy, I saved what I thought was Chapter 7 into my ‘Final_Edits’ folder:

The file Chapter7.doc already exists. Do you want to replace it?

Before I could even consider that dangerously loaded question, my trigger finger pressed ‘Yes.’ Instead of saving Chapter 7, I overwrote it with an open document (remember that bar tab?). And there you have it. An entire week’s worth killed off in one intoxicated swoop. Cue intense next-level panic. My adrenaline levels were all dressed up with nowhere to go, just swishing around my body in their floor-skimming taffeta skirts grasping at their powdered wigs shouting, ‘It’s a travesty! A travesty, I say!’ (hormones can be prone to the dramatic). I called tech support – a.k.a. my friend Andy – who confirmed what I knew to be true. This one was on me. There was no going back. I had to find an earlier, grossly unedited, version of the chapter and start all … over … again. The moral of the story? Instead of using the tool to tell my story, the tool had become the story, with muggins the biggest tool of them all.

I know I’m not alone on this one. As writers, all it takes is a small brain fault to blow a fuse and trip the whole switchboard. Luckily, all it takes are a few simple hacks to raise our awareness so that we don’t fall foul of mental spam. Brace yourselves – this is an attention intervention!

Love Your Limits

Limits are like credit controllers. We know it’s ‘their job’, but it doesn’t stop us disliking them. That said, reframing is all that’s necessary to take our personal boundaries from buzzkill bureaucrats to mindful time managers. This is especially pertinent when creating an offline–online balance. For example, when writing, I put my phone is on airplane mode and I allocate set times in the morning and evening to reply to emails and update social media. Between those times, the StayFocusd extension blocks out distraction sites online and my Gmail account is set to Out of Office. This practice is also commonly referred to as ‘the notions destroyer’ – just in case I had any.

Plan It, Dammit

Setting times for internet usage is like setting the table for dinner. It creates space for it to become a ritual rather than a routine. Likewise, contextualising our data meals with a beginning and an end sends a message to the brain that it is full. Those who consume information as a method for distraction or while on the run are more likely to fall foul of always feeling hungry despite being overfed with information. Granted, the Google oracle is great in an emergency, but not everything requires a fast answer. Where possible, plan conscious internet meal times instead of relying on take-out or data munching throughout the day.

Find Fault in the Default

When we plug ourselves into too many devices at once, we’re bound to blow a fuse. And when we do, the only thing to do is switch off the circuit board before resetting the trips. This process allows you to figure out what’s interfering the most with your connection or whether you’ve short-circuited yourself into oblivion. Test your daily routine for potential faults. Do you answer emails on your tablet before you get out of bed? Perhaps you use work on your laptop while watching TV? By creating more deliberate usage habits, your patterns of unconscious swiping and scrolling will begin to wane; your craving for novelty will begin to subside and more purposeful patterns will fill the distraction vacuum.

Most Wanted

Can’t seem to finish writing that magnus opus? Florida State University researchers have discovered that mobile phone notifications alone can distract us from attention-demanding tasks, even when we choose to ignore them. The culprit? Dopamine. This frisky hormone gets its reward not just in the checking of our devices but the pure wanting of it. Do you need to be notified about the 200 or so emails that land in your inbox each day as they arrive? Didn’t think so. Now turn off those notifications and stop your mind from wandering.

Just Say ‘No’

Multitasking makes you stupid. Fact. Scientific studies have proven that this ironically unproductive behaviour decreases levels of grey matter in the brain and incurs what’s known as a switching cost – a lag time of 25 minutes before regaining full mental focus to the task at hand. The new black? Downgrading from multi to mono. Try completing one task, whether that’s writing or researching a chapter, without compromising valuable attention attending to beeps, blips, snaps and other audible intrusions. Need inspiration? Think of my ‘Save As’ confession and think again.

(c) Annmarie O’Connor

About The Happy Medium:

The speed of modern culture combined with the hyper-connectivity of technology has shifted our perspective from good enough to never enough. We are now primed to expect more, to aspire to better, and to want nothing less than the best.

The reality? It’s making us miserable.

So if you’d like to swap the weight of having it all for having more with less, then get ready: it’s time to discover your happy medium.

This isn’t a mantra of mediocrity. Rather, it’s about finding balance in a full-throttle culture.

Offering a paradigm-shifting manifesto for Generation Burn-out, The Happy Medium will help you gain perspective and get rid of unsustainable expectations of what constitutes a life well lived.

You’ll discover what you really need so you can get more of what you actually want, and begin to define your happiness on your own terms.

Order your copy online here.


Annmarie O’Connor is the bestselling author of The Happy Closet, a fashion writer and an award-winning stylist. Her editorials and stylings appear in the Irish Examiner, The Sunday Times Style, the Irish Times, Irish Tatler, Image and The Gloss. Over the years, she has reported from the catwalks of London and Paris and has interviewed fashion figures such as Victoria Beckham, Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson, Manolo Blahnik and Ab Fab’s Jennifer Saunders. She is also the editor of the Louis Vuitton City Guide to Dublin 2012. She has worked as stylist to the coaches on the Voice of Ireland, and has styled shows at London Fashion Week and, closer to home, luxury department stores Brown Thomas and Harvey Nichols. On air, she is a contributor to The Dave Fanning Show, The Ryan Tubridy Show, TV3’s Xposé, Ireland AM and RTE’s Today Show. She was featured as one of Ireland s 100 Most Inspiring Women in 2011 and appeared on Ireland’s Power List in Irish Tatler Business in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2015, she was the winner of the Kerry Fashion Week Best Irish Fashion Stylist and the Irish Fashion Ambassador award. www.annmarieoconnor.me
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