Why Focusing In Life is So Hard

You want to know why it’s so hard to focus on your own life and ride your own wavelength of zen? Well, I re-discovered the answer today. Wait for it… Wait for it…

It’s because everyone around you is so DARN LOUD!

The Setting

I wrote this post yesterday during a fit of frustration on the plane to a hopefully calming vacation in Las Vegas while attempting to read My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel amidst the cackles and clangor of inebriated passengers as they become new found airline besties.

The Story (and Lesson):

Listen, I’m all for freedom of friendliness, libation, and acquaintance; but by golly, do they have to be so LOUD? Then again this is a country built on freedom of speech, so who am I to tell the new found besties to sacrifice their hyperactive happiness for my peace and serenity. I mentally rummaged through all the fine print I read inside the safety manual. There was a lot of reassuring information about oxygen masks, life vests, safety devices, and “in the event of an emergency” situations, but nothing about being courteous to your neighbors. But wait, isn’t this an emergency? Am I not being forced to sacrifice my page-turning enjoyment to listen to the loudest passengers that have ever flown on a plane, ever? Doesn’t that warrant some kind of rescuing?

With no way to politely ask these chatty birds to pipe down, I decided to make something of this experience and share the lessons this noise has forced me to tackle. What else am I supposed to do? Do you want me to risk a confrontation, get booted off the plane, and possibly get arrested because I had to defend myself against one of these tipsy passengers when they try to punch my lights out? No! I am saying no to violence and that’s my final answer, for now. Instead, I will take a deep breath and patiently hoped for some desperately annoyed passenger to do what I don’t have the gumption to do — ask them to shut up! Oops, I mean to “please, if you would be so kind, might you quiet down a bit?”

As I become more and more frustrated by each screech and shout, the feeling inside reminds me of moments in my life when I’ve felt trapped, frustrated, limited, and a victim of other people inserting noise into my rather happy place. Those were times when I found it most difficult to focus on my journey. Right now, I would do anything to be able to go into my own head and turn up the selective attention dial to “I can’t hear you” mode but nothing is a match for the voices of Godzilla. The more I think about ways I can tune these various conversations out is the more anxious and tense I am becoming. Under other circumstances I would have reveled in the opportunity to eavesdrop on the fascinating conversations around me. Honestly, they are discussing interesting interpretations of life. The two new buddies behind me are shifting in and out of intellectual conversations about love, relationships, passion, religion, happiness, spirituality, God, and new places to experience once we reached our destination. Our other friends across the isle are adding to the noise with topics including food, TV shows, etc. The problem isn’t them per se — well maybe it is because there is no need to shout at the top of your lungs if someone is sitting right next to you– but it is more the fact that I am not in the mood to listen to their stories at this volume at this moment. I want to read my book during this flight and then reflect on life.

Though quite terrifying– if you really think too hard about it– there’s something quite calming and spiritual about flying. The views, the perspective, and the fact that my life is in the hands of complete strangers surrounded by complete strangers for hours while thousands of feet above the ground is both unsettling and kind of magical. That is until turbulence hits and I am reminded that death could be imminent. Oddly, I am sure that fewer planes have crashed from turbulence than during take off or landing, but I could be wrong. Anyone know? Well, just as a wrote this paragraph I can report that I am entering the first phase of a full on panic attack, so let’s change the subject back to the chatterboxes behind me.

As I said before, in my mind this plane ride included a specific plan for my time– me, God, reflection, and a book, not writing a blog post about my frustration with the noise. I’m sure I would have found “the best method for tuning out deafening voices” in the book about anxiety but I was only able to get to page 32 before the voices of Godzilla destroyed my focus. Still annoyed but determined, I am deciding to start talking to myself — in a healthy way. “You’re stronger than this. Don’t let them distract you. You had a goal in mind, so stick to it!” Typically I would be completely oblivious to the loud mouths around me as they are drowned out by my music or a movie. However, I forgot my headphones this time! Thankfully my other-better-equal half is always thinking ahead and he brought an extra pair. Nonetheless, I didn’t planned on plugging my ears with noise-cancelling headphones; I planned on having an intellectually stimulating experience with my books. As you can surmise by now, their volume has reached the decibel that would interrupt even the most focused person’s brain frequencies! So, I am taking the headphones, but it is still not working.

I am asking myself over and over, “Why is it so hard to just focus? Why can’t you just push through? Is it really that hard to tune them out or are you just being petty?” Feeling defeated, I am reminded of the times in my life when I felt overwhelmed by the noise around me — times I’ve been focused on something in my life and then every voice begins playing in my head (again, not in the DSM-5 diagnosis kind of way). They are the times in which all the negative, positive, confused, logical, irrational, intellectual, and analytical voices/thoughts tell me how to be confident, worried, certain, and fearless all in the same frequency. Ay dios mios! As my mind is shifting to those moments when I’ve asked the same question –“Why is it so hard to just focus?” — I am beginning to recognize a parallel between my focus, life, and the challenge of tuning out noise. I am not sure I really want to confront it, but here goes. Simply realized, the more voices and noise in my head– including my own at times– is the more difficult it is for me to focus on my own life and my own journey.

Some noises are louder than others — fear, other people’s opinions, opposing viewpoints, societal and family expectations, cultural norms, and internal self-talk. At times, it can just be too loud, too confusing, too opposing, too headache producing, and too tiring to combat. Although annoyed at my clangorous neighbors, I am happy that I had the chance to look myself in the mirror and confront factors that at times make it hard for me to focus. Although a critical exercise, confronting these factors one time on a plane is not going make me a master at tuning out the loudest noises in my life. It is going to require mental maturity and mental martial arts!

Today, I am reminded that I have a lot more work to do. It would be great to block out the noise by creating a magical force-field around my head, but I’m sure that would not prevent me from concocting some ridiculous thinking within my own head.

Today, I have learned two things:

  1. I now understand why people invest in quality noise-cancelling headphones,
  2. no matter how noise cancelling the headphones, it’s much harder to cancel out the noise that exist — or you allow to exist — inside your own head, and
  3. be ready to listen and adapt when life speaks.

The good news is that this lesson has made me more of a noise-cancelling ninja and our neighbors alcohol consumption has finally caught up to them! The four amigos are quietly resting. Maybe now I can get back to focusing on my book or at least enjoying the remaining moments of this amazing view in peace and quiet.

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