Filter failure

It’s possible that we’re not so distracted and overwhelmed because of the sheer amount of stimuli we’re exposed to. There are a million possible uses of attention. Instead, we should consider this a problem of “filter failure.”

The ability to focus on what’s important depends on our ability to disconnect from the 99% of things that don’t deserve our attention, so all that’s left is our priority.


Most of today’s thoughts and activities tend to be a repeat of yesterday’s. Barring any major life disruptions – ups or downs – we’re generally on auto-pilot when we’re just living our lives. It’s not often that we act with intention.

Practicing deliberate focus on even a few things, for a few minutes each day, increases the awareness and the time spent truly paying attention to our uses of energy.

I don’t mean anything mystical when I refer to “energy.” I simply mean being deliberate and present. Taste your food when you eat, pray when you’re praying, feel your muscles when you walk, connect with loved ones when you’re with them, work when you’re working and play when you’re playing.

Focus on what works

Sometimes we seek out alternate workouts, diets, or the 10 new marketing tactics of the year. Experimenting is great for learning what works.  But once we find something that works, we can devote less time to seeking other methods.

Better to use the three marketing tactics that bring in new business consistently, than 20 tactics that sometimes work just a little bit.  Better to eat the foods we love and that serve us than to try to “mix it up” purely for the sake of variety (unless variety alone brings you joy).

Experimenting allows us to figure out what few things work well.  Once we identify those few things, spend less time seeking to swap them out for the next big thing.

It’s not too late

My inspiring friend Pat started training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu after she turned 60. She was already athletic, and now she’s athletic and…not someone you want to mess with.

Sam Walton founded Walmart at age 44. Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at age 50. “Colonel” Sanders franchised his first KFC at age 62.

It’s not too late. Take action. As the Chinese proverb says: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

I don’t know enough

With some effort, perhaps we can normalize saying things like “I don’t know enough about that topic to have an informed opinion.” 

One way to move in that direction is to acknowledge that, no matter your expertise, there is some aspect of any topic of which you are ignorant – limited by a lack of compelling data or maybe just a perspective you’ve been denied through no fault of your own.

My hope is that one day, an admission that someone “doesn’t know enough yet” will not only be normal, but as respected as the expert answer.

Opinions and preferences

It’s easy to share your opinion on something truly subjective like music, food, or art without being hostile. That band, that food, and that style of art doesn’t suck – they’re just not for you. And of course we all have the right to have preferences. Sometimes people with strong preferences or beliefs share them as if they were truths.

When you share opinions, make it obvious that they are your preferences, your views, your thoughts, and not objective facts about which people can either agree or be wrong/stupid. That’s a recipe for bickering and dividing people. I hope we can all agree that there’s enough of that.

Most decisions aren’t forever

One fact that should be comforting when facing a stressful decision is that MOST decisions you’ll make in life are reversible. You can change jobs or even careers; you can move to the house down the street or to another continent; you can even remove that tattoo with your ex’s name!

This isn’t to say that we should take consequential decisions lightly. It’s a reminder that the decision to walk through a door doesn’t mean it closes and locks behind us.

Guidelines that simplify

Guidelines allow us to predetermine how we’ll direct our energy to make thoughtful decisions.  One guideline I use in a situation where I’m invited to something that I can’t commit to, is to say “I can’t make it but I really appreciate the invite.  If anything changes I’ll to let you know.”

This makes my default answer “no” rather than “maybe.”  No guilt, no follow-up, no mental energy required.  Also, if I am able to make it in the end, it’s a much more positive outcome than if I’d have said “maybe” and backed out.

What  simple guidelines can you create now so that you’re less reactive when it’s decision time?

You don’t need a job

You don’t need a job.  You need income. Getting a job is one common way to gain income, but viewing it as the only way closes the door to many opportunities.

Some people earn commissions selling products for companies that don’t employ them. Others turn selling a few items on Etsy or eBay into a business. Some let their monetary investments provide income. Others teach people to do these things.

I’m not encouraging that everyone start a business.  I’m encouraging the idea of zeroing in on your needs and asking how – other than the obvious, popular ways – you can achieve them.