Feeling lost? Tired? Out of ideas? All three?! Intentional scatterfocus will help you start seeing things a little more clearly.
To walk or not to walk?
That was the question on my weary mind one day a few years back, in the midst of yet another snowstorm here in Moorhead, Minnesota (suggested motto: “Who Needs Spring … or Summer … or Fall?”), as I pondered how to get to the French class I was taking at nearby Concordia College.
Normally I just drove the three miles to campus. But on this already messy day, our minivan was in the shop because it had decided to leak power steering fluid all over the floor of our garage. So I was temporarily carless.
If the weather had been nicer I would have happily walked to campus. But instead I bundled up and headed for the bus stop, half a mile away, figuring public transit would be a simple way to cover the remaining two-and-a-half miles.
Suddenly … Time on My Hands
As I neared the stop, thinking I was 10 minutes early (I’d read the schedule wrong), I saw my bus coming—only to see my bus going, down the road, seconds later as I ran toward the stop waving my arms.
The good news was that another bus would be along.
The bad news was that I’d need to wait in the cold for 30 minutes for said bus to arrive.
And the even worse news was that, once the next bus did ultimately arrive and I got on, it promptly broke down five minutes later in the parking lot of Cashwise Foods—leaving me even farther away from campus than when I’d started in the first place, nearly an hour before.
Should I take the flustered bus driver’s word that a substitute bus would show up in, to quote his conviction on the matter, “20 or 30 minutes … I think?”?
I think not.
These boots were made for walkin’. So off I went on foot, the northeast wind at my back and the snowfall feeling surprisingly peaceful and calming.
Still, I had three miles to kill, and a brainful of mush to sort through on top of it all. What would I do with all the time on my cold hands?
I decided to try out—intentionally (that’s key)—an activity that is a potential godsend to introverts: a thought-sifting, idea-connecting state of mind called scatterfocus.
Clarity from Mind Wandering
In his fascinating book Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, author Chris Bailey talks about scatterfocus as one of two key ways of managing one’s attention (the other being hyperfocus, or devoting all your attention to one complex task).
Scatterfocus is the opposite of hyperfocus: It’s the act of letting your mind wander wherever it wants to go—and then simply seeing what answers appear and what ideas come together.
It sounds easy on the surface. In fact, many of us introverts might argue that scatterfocus is a no-brainer, as natural as breathing.
But it isn’t, especially in today’s world of endless potential distractions, particularly (though far from exclusively) our cell phones.
Bailey goes to considerable effort to explain the will involved in tapping into the power of scatterfocus.
It goes beyond accidental daydreaming. You don’t merely sit around waiting and hoping for scatterfocus to appear.
Rather, you “deliberately deploy” it, Bailey says, so that you can harness its “remarkable benefits.”
That’s exactly what I did during my impromptu winter hike to Concordia.
Actually, make that rewards, all three of which Bailey describes in Hyperfocus:
1) Scatterfocus “allows you to set intentions and plan for the future.”
Like many walks in a winter wonderland, mine started off pleasantly enough.
Then, shockingly, I started to get cold.
But I kept walking, and as I did my brain reminded me that I was, well, walking—i.e., I didn’t need to stick to the main roads, or to roads at all, to get to my destination.
Thus I ended up cutting through the campus of adjacent Minnesota State University Moorhead and saving myself both time and toes.
2) Scatterfocus also “lets you recharge.”
The typical introvert craves opportunities to decompress and re- energize, and I’m no different.
My scatterfocus walk gave me that, too, perhaps more so than the usual walk because I had virtually no distractions besides the elements.
Yes, I got cold. At first. But slowly, as my walk played out, I began to warm up, and by the time I got to campus I felt refreshed and invigorated.
I’d never been so glad to have missed the bus (or a functioning bus, at any rate).
3) Finally, scatterfocus “fosters creativity.”
“Scattering your attention and focusing on nothing in particular supercharges the dot-connecting powers of your brain,” Bailey says.
Combine that phenomenon with the typical introvert’s penchant for deep thinking and you have a potential gold mine of ideas that can emerge from a scatterfocus session.
During my walk, I came up with several article ideas, for starters. I thought about French, too, somehow finally working out (after months of trying) that the French pronoun y must be sort of like the English equivalent of “there.” (Note: Turns out it’s a bit more complicated than that, but my walk revelation was largely right.)
You can use the concept of scatterfocus yourself whenever you want to create, re-energize, or plan (or all three) in a way that naturally matches your introverted personality.
The keys to success:
- Be intentional about it. Scatterfocus is something you do, actively and purposefully. “Intention,” Bailey stresses, “is what makes scatterfocus so powerful.”
- Eliminate distractions. Turn your cell phone off or put it somewhere else. Get away from your computer, maybe even head to a new place. Go for a walk or engage in some other physical activity.
- Here’s the hardest one: Focus on nothing instead of something. Tell yourself: “I’m just going to be right now, and whatever pops into my head pops into my head.”
Be patient. The ideas and connections won’t come instantly.
But, like the bus, they will come.