Distracted? Try “Labelling” Your Distracting Thoughts!

In order to successfully get through college, you’ll need to be able to keep your mind on what you’re doing! Reading, writing, and studying require maximum mental bandwidth.

But what do you do when those intrusive thoughts just keep coming into your mind? Try classifying your thoughts into one of three groups – “now” “later” and “never”!

Now thoughts:

“Now” thoughts are appropriate to follow up on now. These thoughts encourage your full involvement in the task.

During reading, for example, a “now” thought would be about the content of the reading (reading comprehension) or about ways to stay focused on reading.

A “now” thought about comprehension of a political science reading could be, “There is a difference between corrective justice and procedural justice.”

A “now” thought about the process of reading could be something like, “I didn’t understand what I just read…I need to read that again.”

What do you do if you decide a thought is a “now” thought? Well, congratulate yourself – you’re on track!

Later thoughts:

“Later” thoughts are appropriate to pursue, but not now. Some examples include an interesting related idea, a clarifying question or an important task to perform.

A “later” thought might be, “I wonder what laws our governor is in favor of?  I could look that up on the internet.”

An example of a “later” thought that is unrelated to the current reading is, “I forgot to talk to my English prof.  I have to do that after class tomorrow.”

How do you deal with “later” thoughts? You can write them down on paper or a post-it so you don’t lose track of them. I keep a post-it pad right beside me when I’m working to capture my “later” thoughts!

Never thoughts: 

“Never” thoughts suck the life out of you! You’ll want to avoid these whenever possible! “Never” thoughts are power destroyers; they erode confidence and commitment.

Examples of “never” thoughts include a discouraging or negative thought such as “I can’t get this,” or “This is stupid.”  Just identifying a thought as being a “never” thought can really help to deal with it and eliminate it!

How do you deal with “never” thoughts? Well, they can really want to hang out with you, so one thing I like to do is keep another post-it around to “dump” those negative thoughts onto. It’s really powerful later in the day to tear that post-it into bits and throw it into the trash! Tearing it up is a very obvious reminder that I’m not going to hang out with negative influences if they keep me from accomplishing something that matters to me!

Another way to deal with “never” thoughts is to use a personally meaningful phrase such as “That’s a ‘never’ thought – it’s not allowed in here.”

Labelling your thoughts gives you the power to take control!

When your attention begins to drift, try taking control by labelling your thoughts! Notice what you’re thinking and decide if the thought is a “now” “later” or “never” thought. Doing that will immediately give you an effective strategy you can use to stay on track! You’ll get more done, you’ll remember more of what you read, and you’ll have higher grades!

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Dr. Kari Miller, PhD, BCET is a board certified educational therapist and ADHD coach who has been educating and coaching adults and young people who have ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, emotional challenges, and other complex needs for more than twenty-five years.  She holds a PhD in educational psychology and mathematical statistics, an MEd in Learning Disabilities, Gifted Education and Educational Diagnosis, and a BS in Early Childhood Education and Behavior Disorders. Dr. Miller provides support across the lifespan – to school-aged students with learning and attention challenges, to young adults in transition to college or the workplace, and to women with ADHD who have passionate dreams, but are frustrated by procrastination, lack of focus and difficulty following through.

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