Blogging for the Hell of It, Confident Woman, Entrepreneur

Single for a Year: Retraining the Brain

This is it… 2020 is finally over. For many of us—myself included—the end couldn’t come fast enough.

But here we are… a fresh new start. Don’t worry. This isn’t another blog about goal-setting or New Years’ Resolutions. Rather, it’s yet another blog in my “Single for a Year” journey. In the last month, I’ve learned about the importance of “retraining my brain” to focus more on what matters most.

Even though I still have another five months to go, I find myself thinking less and less about relationships, and more on how to achieve my “ideal self”. When I asked myself what that is, and how to find it, I realized that it is when I am truly in deep work or focus mode, which can only be achieved with fewer distractions.

Eliminating Distractions

At the beginning of December 2020, I began reading Focus Work by Cal Newport. (Highly recommended for entrepreneurs or any professional looking to improve their quality of work, solve a problem, or harness creativity.)

Reading Deep Work
Nick and I reading “Deep Work”

The Power of “Deep Work”

Do you know the moments while focusing on a task at work or a personal project, and you are so fully immersed in what you’re working on that you forget what time it is? That is what we mean by “deep work”.

Deep work involves professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value and improve your skill…

[From decades of research] in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is necessary to improve your abilities.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Getting into the habit of scheduling and sticking to “focus work” sessions isn’t easy. Like everything, it requires extreme concentration, thought, and consistent practice. Working deeply helps you to come up with or master new ideas and apply them, create something with them, solve a problem, or learn how to do hard things quickly.

To do this, you have to “retrain your brain” against distractions, boredom, and attention, which was my goal for December 2020.

As a business owner, I am a “knowledge worker”, which constantly involves working with and consulting with clients. This also means I spend a lot of time in creative “problem-solving” and execution mode.

To do this effectively, I have to really hone in on the art of “deliberate practice”, as our buddy, Cal, identifies in Deep Work. The core competencies for achieving deliberate practice requires focusing attention tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master.

Now, if I were to think back to the days when I was in a relationship, even at my best attempts at achieving the level of “deep work” described in this blog, I was constantly dealing with interruptions—texts or phone calls from the S.O., requests to make lunch or snacks, or do laundry.

Don’t get me wrong—this doesn’t mean I don’t love doing those things for someone I love, but the point I’m driving at here is that more distractions mean robbing me of my brain’s natural energy levels to focus on deep work.

Since I began my “Single for a Year” journey in May 2020, I have become better at my job and in every possible way. In fact, our business has nearly doubled in the last nine months (and, yes, even through COVID).

The reason? Fewer distractions, more time for “deep work”. Since I’ve been paying attention to this (mostly by journaling), I’ve noticed that I’m making “deep work” more and more of a priority, and I’m getting better at building it into my schedule, protecting that time, and retraining my brain.

Happiness = “The Flow Theory”

You may or may not have heard about “flow” as it relates to peak energy periods. If you read my blog on how to be creative, then you know what I mean about peak energy periods, and why these are important.

The “flow theory” is just what you probably think it means: your “flow” or “zone”, when you experience moments when you are fully immersed in what you’re working on, and when you are embracing and enjoying our work. It’s also in those moments that we also experience fragments of gratitude, feeling happy that we have the opportunity to work on something awesome and meaningful. Finding meaning, value, and gratitude are all keys to TRUE happiness.

Now, imagine what you can do when building your work life around the experience of “flow” produced by deep work.

So what is the point of all this? What does this have to do with relationships? Relationships—for better or for worse—are distractions. Of course, they can be good distractions, but they are still distractions, nonetheless. They involve paying attention to another’s wants, needs, and desires, and respecting them, which requires time, effort, and energy, which means more time, effort, an energy away from deep, meaningful work.

Does this mean that I will give up my identity, sense of self, and meaningful work to focus on a relationship? Not necessarily, but it may mean shifting the times or frequency at when I schedule “deep work” sessions, and communicating the importance of those sessions with a significant other. Like anything in life, it’s all about balance.

Remember, who you are, what you feel, and do what you love are the sum of what and where you focus your time, and what you focus on improves your life.

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