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How focusing on just one thing makes a difference

March 8, 2023

I did something radical this week: I went for a walk without my phone😲. I was inspired by Michael Mosley’s Just One Thing podcast, digestible 14 minute episodes about improving your wellbeing with inviting, easy-sounding titles like ‘sing’, ‘read’ and ‘eat chocolate’.

Scrolling through the new series, ‘put your phone down‘ caught my eye. According to Michael, UK adults spend 3 hours a day on their phones. Not me, I thought, and opened my digital wellbeing app to check…only to discover my day’s usage was almost 4 hours!!! And so were a number of days in the previous week. Proof that we don’t always see the truth in our lives.

What’s taking your attention?

It’s not really the length of time that bothers me; a good proportion of my usage is things like meditation, following recipes and doing exercise as the phone is a brilliant tool for these sorts of things. It’s the quality of my attention when my phone’s just ‘there’ which I wonder about.

It’s important to me to be as present as possible for my friends and family (and for myself when I’m working) and I wonder whether I truly am? I put my phone away when I’m coaching to give clients my full attention, but I don’t always do so for others in my life.

Hence the walk, to remind me how it feels to switch off fully and that bad things are unlikely to happen if I don’t check my phone for an hour. In fact, good things happened. I still enjoyed my surroundings without being able to photograph them; I was surprised that my foggy menopausal brain could still remember an idea when I got home, and I felt a sense of freedom and ease.

The challenge of making changes

It did feel a bit weird though. But that’s the thing with new behaviours, they do feel odd when you start out, maybe even challenging and unpleasant. After all, you’re disrupting existing neural pathways in your brain and laying down new ones and that takes effort and persistence until they too become automatic.

This need for effort and persistence can get in the way of us changing things we want to which is why the ‘just one thing’ approach is a good one to bear in mind.

You make greater strides working on one project than you do nudging ten at the same time. More visible progress sets up a positive reward loop: when you see results you’re motivated to keep up the effort so you see more results.

I adopted the ‘one thing’ approach when my children were little, focusing on one thing per term I wanted to encourage like learning to tie shoe laces, walking to school on their own or remembering pleases and thank yous. The demands of parenting are sometimes overwhelming. This helped me see progress and reassured me they’d one day be capable, independent young men.

What’s just one thing that will make a difference to you right now?

I sometimes use the ‘one thing’ question in coaching. It’s something you can ask yourself:

“If you were to do one thing to improve your wellbeing, performance or relationships right now, what would it be?”

Here are the sorts of answers I hear:

  • ask for help
  • catch self-criticism
  • not check work emails at weekends
  • listen to my children
  • write a daily gratitude list
  • block out 10 minutes before and after meetings
  • take my lunch breaks

So for my next one thing I’m going to put my phone away for chunks of my working day and when family come home in the evening. I’m curious to see whether it reduces distractions.

What one thing might make a difference to you at work or home? You don’t have to do it for ever. Just play with it and get curious about what happens. It might just make the difference you’ve been looking for.

About me

I’m Celia Clark. I’m a career development coach based in the dreaming spires of Oxford. I help you think clearly about your job, in all its ups and downs, so you can be happy and successful in your work.

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