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Hit the brakes and he’ll fly right by

081119-N-9900B-019Revisiting one of the greatest movies of all time (Top Gun) to snag the subject line, one of the best ways to get your brain and your life organized is the ability to stop yourself when you’re careening off the rails. It’s called impulse control and we all have it, but sometimes we need some help putting a little control into our impulses. Hammerness and Moore discuss the next Rule of Order for getting organized as the ability to Apply the Brakes (95).

Applying the brakes means exercising inhibitory control, which is the ability to restrain or regulate or control your attention (Hammerness & Moore 98). Examples of people lacking inhibitory control are all around us – from the folks at Starbucks trying to jockey for position nearer to the front of the line, or that same moron not waiting patiently for traffic to clear but instead bolts off to a side street to find another way around (Hammerness and Moore 99). BTW, there’s a reason I know every side street and shortcut in my home city, but I digress. Inhibitory control gives us the ability to decide that sometimes the best action is nonaction. Sometimes its quicker to wait, to slow down and be patient. So how do we do that?

  • Applying the brakes can be as easy as cranking out some quick exercise – some jumping jacks or push ups, or even a brisk walk around the office. You’ll find your control and your focus on the original task begin to return (Hammerness and Moore 113).
  • Another way to apply the brakes is to actually stop, become aware that something is trying to pull you off course, take 3 deep breathes and make a conscious choice whether to stick with what you’re working or, or to change course and focus on the new stimuli – often you’ll find that the new stimuli can wait.
  • Molding the information, is another skill promoted by Hammerness and Moore (119). The ability to mold information is a problem-solving step – it means that the mind can take in new information, step back and consider it, reflect on it (remember other similar experiences and outcomes) and look at it in different ways (Hammerness & Moore), and therefore make a better decision. The ability to mold information is tied directly to memory aptitude – so, if you want to make better decisions, improve your memory. Just by listening to books on tape help improve your memory – particularly if its a book on improving your memory!

While we’ve talked quite a bit about strategies to stay focused and on task, there are times when you have to shift sets. Shifting sets is the ability to be flexible in your thoughts and behaviors, like the ability to break away from that PowerPoint you’re building to address an emergency situation or pressing urgency (Hammerness & Moore 145).

I had a great challenge one day when I was told I’d have 20 minutes to give a presentation to pitch my aviation security textbook. However, as the speaker ahead of me continued past his allotted time, my speaking time decreased from 20 minutes, to 15, to ten and then to just five minutes. I had a flight to catch so I could not go over my allotted time. But, during the 15-minutes prior, I continually reorganized my speech to fit the time allotted. Although I missed my 20 minutes of “sales” time, I managed to respect the audience’s time (they were due for their morning break), still made my flight and still made my key points. In fact, the forced compression made my comments even more impactful. Complaining about the lost time would have just made for a lost opportunity.

Sometimes, set shifting can work to your advantage like when you’re working on a large project and you hit “the wall.” We all know the wall, don’t we? It’s when the idea fairy takes a powder, you begin to work slower, you’re making less progress and the river of ideas into your brain has turned into a river of sludge.  Again, some quick exercise, some breathing and movement and then return if you’re ready. If the idea fairy had punched out for the day, then don’t come back right away – let your mind process that project for awhile and turn to something else (Hammerness and Moor 160).

When you experience the thought or distraction, pause for a moment, decide if the new stimuli is worth changing course – if not, then hit the brakes and the distraction will fly right by.

Hammerness, Paul Graves., Margaret Moore, and John Hanc. Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time. New York: Harlequin, 2012. Print.

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