Struggling to focus? Start here.

Even smart men have trouble focusing sometimes. So instead of getting embarassed, get focused. And if you’re struggling to focus today, start here.

struggling to focus

Feeling a bit shaky?

When I was 11, my partents divorced. And they needed somewhere to park me while they sorted out the sordid details of their complaints and their separation. So they sent me to camp. In July 1971, I arrived at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island. I was there for two sessions. And it was pretty cool. But I was still pretty shaken up, distracted by what I imagined my parents were up to back in Seattle.

When you’re struggling to focus, first listen.

And, I felt pretty alone. In fact, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. So, for maybe the first time in my life, I got really quiet. And it’s amazing what happens when you shut up for a minute — even under duress. Because when you get quiet, sounds find their way into your head through your ears. Sounds that you never heard before. Sounds like small waves lapping on the beach. But also the sounds of another person’s pain. Because when you get quiet enough and listen for a minute, you might start to hear the pain of the people around you. And suddenly, you don’t feel quite as alone.

Then take aim.

At least, that’s what happened to me. When I got quiet, I started hearing the pain of another camper named Alex. Alex’s parents were divorcing, too. And amazingly enough, his trouble seemed a little deeper than my own. And so Alex and I began to hang out together. Now, Alex was into shooting. And there at camp, you could shoot stuff. And yes, there was supervision. But it was shooting all the same. Shooting rifles and bows. And every day, for both sessions of camp, Alex and I could be found all day at the shooting ranges.

And then, breathe.

That summer, I got pretty good at shooting the rifle, but even better at shooting a bow. And here’s what I learned. If you want to hit your target where you want to hit it, you’ve got to breathe. Because the temptation is — when you’re pulling back that bow string — the temptation is to hold your breath. But that’s just the opposite of what you need to do. And there was this one counselor there at the shooting range every day, whose name was Brad. 

Remember to breathe.

And Brad noticed that I was there every day, so he took an interest in me and taught me to shoot better. He even loaned me his personal hunting bow, which felt super cool to me at age 11. And he’d say, “Hey, Buddy, remember to breathe.” And while I didn’t really like being called Buddy, he was right. Breathing is the key to accurate focus.

Now, please do this.

So if you need to focus right now, shut up and breath. And you can learn more about those two disciplines on this website. In fact, the next article is about breathing. And if you’d like more help with either of these two amazing disciplines, or with anything about struggling to focus, please write to me at mark@marknewtonpdx.com. I’ll be in touch with you with more suggestions on how to focus and get moving again.

Anxious? Use your breath. It works, and it’s free.

You’ve tied everything from drugs and alcohol to porn. But none of work — at least not for long. So, you’re still anxious. But the next time you feel anxious, use the oldest trick in the book — your breath.

your breath

Anxious?

Because there’s no need to be embarrassed about it. Everyone gets anxious sometimes. But what if you could quickly get out of that feeling of panic that sometimes threatens to overtake you? Because you can — quickly and easily.

Change your anxiousness easily.

Please start here. Watch this brief and entertaining video by Jitesh Vaswani. You’ll be glad you did. And then come right back for the takeaway.

Your breath is the easy answer.

So — did you notice how much better you felt, as you followed along? And it was so simple. Because instead of a costly gym membership, or the many other methods you’ve tried to feel better, you simply used what you already have with you — your breath. And your breath is free and effective.

So do this, please.

Now that you’ve watched the video and felt how quickly and easily you can feel better by simply breathing, do it. Make a plan to take a moment later today or tomorrow to step outside of your stressful situation and simply breath. You might bring this little post along with you into the bathroom, and watch the video again. Or you might just take 5 and make time to breathe. And please don’t feel silly doing it. Because it’s not weird. And it works.

Like to know more?

Because there are many excellent resources for getting into the habit of using your breath to reduce anxiety. Here’s one of them. And if you’d like some personal coaching in the art of breathing and reducing anxiety, feel free to reach out to me at mark@marknewtonpdx.com. I’ve been using this technique for many years to reduce anxiety and get back into focus.

Struggling to get your message across? Try this

Why is it that — as hard as you try — you can’t seem to get your message across? Here’s why. And here’s what to do about it.

get your message across

They can’t understand you.

So the first thing you’ll want to do, in order to get your message across, is to say something that your audience can understand. In that light, watch this hilarious short clip of Steve Martin trying to say “I would like to buy a hamburger,” from the movie “The Pink Panther.”

Is this you?

Or is it just me? Because I swear that sometimes when I’m talking with someone, they look at me like I’m speaking nonsense, like Steve Martin, above. I mean, he’s really trying. But failing miserably. And I guess I’m just saying I can feel his pain, which is why it’s so funny. But seriously — if you want to break through and make a connection with another human, here’s the ticket. And Nelson Mandela put it simply and eloquently when he said simply, “Speak their language.” And you might object, “But I am speaking their language. After all, we’re both speaking English.” And you’re right. But you’re also missing something, aren’t you? Because you’ve felt the disconnect. So here it is, plain and simple, in the words of Nelson Mandela.

Here’s how to get through:

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

So speak their language to get your message across.

And that sounds like a good idea, right? But how do you actually do that in practice? Because no matter who you’re talking with, they have a language. And it’s a language more nuanced than simply English or French. In fact, there are many more languages that you might be thinking of. For example, you might have heard of the concept of “love languages.” And, yes. That is one lens. But there are many more. So here’s the concept: speak their language.

But how do I know which language to use?

Here’s how. Ready? And this may blow your mind, it’s so simple. Because the way to know which language to use is to listen to them. That’s right — listen to the person you want to connect with. Notice what words they use, and how they put their words together. And this is essential — listen for what is important to them

They’ll tell you — if you listen.

But wait — I thought we were talking about getting my message across. And yes. You’re right. We are. And this is what works to get your message across, which is counter-intuitive. If you want to get your message across, you first have to listen. Because what is important to the person you are trying to connect with may or may not be important to you. But if you want to connect with them, you’ll be wise to follow the advise of the ancient sage, Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand. Then to be understood.”

Accountability issues? Here’s what’s missing.

Struggling with accountability? Stop making excuses. And start doing more of this.

accountability

Want accountability?

First of all, what is accountability? Here’s what it’s not: it’s not making excuses. And it’s not blame. Instead, accountability is the ability to account for your actions honestly. So at its simplest, accountability just means being responsible. And you might be pretty good at that. Even when it means admitting that you’re wrong. Still, it’s not easy.

What’s the problem?

Part of the problem is that you’re a rebel. So you don’t see the need to answer to anyone but yourself. And at some level, you’re right. But the problem with this approach is that you isolate yourself. And when you’re isolated, you lose valuable input from others. So you read self-help books. And they encourage you to man-up. Or you listen to a podcast. Or you get an accountability partner. And having an accountability partner is a good idea. But still, something missing. In fact, you know you’re missing the mark. Because you’re still not your best self. So what can you do?

It’s not what you might think.

Because what actually helps you become your best self is counter-intuitive. But why? Because it cuts against the grain of what you’ve been taught about being a man. Because men are supposed to be manly, right? Yes. But what does being manly mean? Does it mean being tough? Or athletic? Or strong? Perhaps. But you know that it’s more than that. And here’s what’s missing.

There is no accountability without this.

The key to accountability is vulnerability. But wait. The meaning of vulnerability is being open to physical or emotional attack. And who wants that? That feels like weakness. And you don’t want to feel weak. But is it true that vulnerability means weakness? Let’s think about that. Let’s say you build a strong fort, so marauders can’t get in. That feels strong, right? Because now, you can to repel any attack. But what happens if your enemies are inside the walls? Because that’s the problem. The real enemy is within. In fact, you are your own worst enemy. And here’s why.

Blaming doesn’t help.

Because when something goes wrong, you want to blame someone. So sometimes, you blame yourself. Because it’s all your fault, right? But the fact is, someone else is usually involved. And while blaming yourself feels like accountability, it is really just blame. And if, on the other hand, you blame someone else, you run the risk of not taking responsibility for your actions. So if you want to do something about the real problem, please listen to this:

Now what?

So if you want to be accountable, stop blaming. Instead, open yourself to vulnerability. Because it’s the manliest thing you can do. Need further help? Drop me a line at mark@marknewtonpdx.com. As a men’s life coach, I work with smart, creative men who sometimes feel overwhelmed. And I’ll help you get focused and moving again.

For top-level decisions, cut the onion.

If you’re going to get to your top-level decisions today, you need to cut the onion. Here’s how.

cut the onion

What is a top-level decision?

You’re going to make a lot of decisions today, from when to piss to when to go home. In fact, you’ll make thousands of decisions before this day is done. But few of the choices you’ll make today are top-level decisions (TLDs). Because TLDs are the ones which actually move the needle and give you measurable progress. The problem is, unless you’re ruthless, you may not get to a single meaningful decision today. Which will leave you feeling like crap as your day ends. Instead of making that mistake, cut the onion.

Cut the onion.

But first, a brief digression. I once knew a man who kept swimming goggles in his kitchen. And yes — I knew he liked to cook. Still, the goggles puzzled me. Until one day when he invited me to cook with him. And he gave me the job of chopping the onions. And then I got it. Because we all know that cutting an onion can be painful. But unless you pay the price and get to the core, your cooking suffers.

It’s the same with TLDs. It’s going to cost you something to cut through to your most important decisions today. But unless you’re on vacation — and even sometimes when you’re on vacation — you need to get your priorities straight, or your day gets away from you.

How to cut the onion.

But here’s the trick. And you’re not going to like this. Because you’ve got to do some writing. That’s right, you’ve got to write. Why? Because you have way too much stuff in your head right now. And your brain is amazing, but it isn’t made to hold as much as you’ve filled it with. In fact, your brain is made mostly for deciding. So you cripple the most valuable part of your brain when you don’t use your brain for what it’s best at.

Shed your tears and move on.

So get out your list app or your sheet of paper, and write down the 10 most important things you need to do today. And then stand up, walk around the table, and sit back down at your list. Is there anything essential that’s not on that list? And sure — go ahead and laugh. This may sound silly. But unless you’ve done this intentionally, you’re not going to cut the onion today — and your day will suffer for it.

All right. So once you have a valid Top 10 list for the day, put a 1, a 2 and a 3 beside the three most important items on that list of ten. What’s number one? Unless you decide to make meaningful progress on that one thing today — you’ll go home safe but sorry. Don’t make that mistake. Cut the onion. Then shed your tears and get out there. Make this day count. Need a little help? As a men’s life coach, I’ll help you get started. Feel free to contact me at mark@marknewtonpdx.com. I’ll be sure to get back to you.