The Problem is Distraction; The Solution is Connection

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Hallowell talks about the power of connection, tips for living a connected life and growing up with ADD and dyslexia. 

Episode 8: Live from Boston: How to Handle Your Face-Paced Life

DR. HALLOWELL: Hello and welcome to “Distraction.” Part of my job includes speaking engagements around the country. I’m about to walk into Newman Elementary School in Needham, Massachusetts, and talk to parents, educators, and folks in the community about how engaging in your surroundings will fulfill you. What you’ll hear next is an excerpt from that presentation.

Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced, Crazy-Busy Life

crazy busy

The soundbite to this talk, and everybody wants a soundbite, the elevator pitch, is simple. The problem is distraction. The solution is connection. Now you can all go home.

Speed is the drug of choice, and I don’t mean amphetamine. I mean the phenomenon of speed. We get off on speed. We crave it, we demand it. If we don’t get it, we get very angry and upset. Not only speed, but volume of data, the absolute onslaught of data points we ask our brains to process every single day. Just think, how many data points did you process thirty years ago, those of you who are old enough to remember? Nowhere near the number you’re processing today. Processing, that’s a new word. It came out of computers. Processing.

It’s like the Cuisinart. You have to turn around the data point. It has to come in, register, you have to do something with it, even if it’s delete it. It steals a certain number of milliseconds or seconds of your life. When you multiply the number of data points by thousands upon thousands every single day, then you’re beginning to appreciate the dizzying phenomenon of modern life. Speed like never before, demanded even when we don’t need it, and volume of data way more than we can possibly make sense of, comprehend, utilize, and deal with.

Just think to yourself, how much of your time do you meaningfully use? This is what modern life allows so much. It allows people, encourages people, seduces people to over-commit, to become crazy busy. Busy is good. I bet every single one in this room is busy every day. What you don’t want is crazy busy, because it’s when you’re in crazy busy… I call it “F state.” There’s “C state,” that’s where you want to be. Adjectives that begin with the letter “C,” cool, calm, collected, careful, convivial, concentrated, courteous, creative. That’s where you want to live, in “C state.”

“F state,” frantic, frenetic, frustrated, about to utter another “f” word. “F state” is where you don’t want to be. That’s when you make mistakes, that’s when you alienate people, that’s when you lose customers, you lose friends. That’s when you’re at your worst. Modern life conspires to drive you toward “F state.” When you feel it happening, stop. Stop. Go to the bathroom. Do something. Get out of that state. Half an hour in “F state” can ruin progress that you’ve made all year.

The Problem is Distraction; The Solution is Connection

living a connected life

I said at the very beginning, the problem is distraction. The solution is connection. By connection, I don’t mean access to the internet. I mean connection to what matters most. If there’s one force in all of life that drives pretty much everything that’s good, it’s the force of connection. The force of feeling a part of something larger than yourself that’s beneficent, that you feel good about. The best thing you can give a child is not a ticket to an Ivy League college. It’s a connected childhood, growing up years of feeling, “I’m a part of something larger than myself.”

Now, what is this force? At its most distilled, we call it love. Love is a word that some mental health professionals seem allergic to speaking. The Beatles got it right, love is the answer. It’s just a matter of how you dispense it. We need to have a rediscovery of love. We need to come out of our paranoid places. The kind of cohesion you have here in this community, all coming out tonight, that’s disappearing. By showing up here tonight, you’re combating that problem. You are saying, “No, I’ll still come out. I’ll still connect. I won’t go into hiding.” More and more people are living lives that are dominated by fear and anxiety, if not downright paranoia.

Taking myself to Whole Foods, where I spend a lot of time, I’ll be wheeling my cart down the aisle and someone will walk past me and I play a little game, I try to get a smile out of them. Eye contact and a smile. Some will do it. It’s like we’re part of a secret society. Most won’t. They look away, they look down. Am I that threatening? The worst ones are the ones who look right through me. It’s like I’m not even there. I begin to think “Am I really here?” It’s this incredible depersonalization, fear of connection, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being hurt. You name it. Fear, fear, fear, fear. Fear-dominated lives are not happy lives, nor are they healthy lives.

Let me walk you through sort of a road map of what I mean by a connected life, which I commend to you, to your family, to your children, to your community. This is the way toward a happy life. This has been studied. This is fact, this is not theory. If you want to know what predicts longevity, health, productivity, fulfillment, joie de vivre, it is connection. It is feeling that you’re a part of something, many somethings, larger than yourself that you care about. It’s a proven fact.

Social Isolation is as Bad as Smoking a Cigarette

If I ask you to list risk factors for early death, most of you would tick off obesity, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, family history. Very few of you would mention social isolation, and yet social isolation is as dangerous a risk factor for early death as cigarette smoking. Most people don’t realize that. It’s been proven. Lisa Burkman, who is now at the Harvard School of Public Health, she proved this in the 70s. The study has been replicated now so many times that we can take it as a given fact.

As much as social isolation is dangerous, connection is tonic. Connection every single day. I call it your daily dose of vitamin C, vitamin Connect. If you get that every single day, hopefully multiple times a day, I swear to you will feel happier, you will feel healthier, you’ll have more pizzazz, and you will just know that you added something to your life that’s really important, that vitamin C. We’re suffering from a massive global vitamin C deficiency.

How Do You Lead a Connected Life?

How do you do it? What are the specifics? How do you lead a connected life? Well, number one, you commit to it. Number two, you join the society that makes eye contact and smiles. You … It’s in these little ways every day. You simply take a moment at the checkout counter and ask the person who is doing one of the most boring jobs in the world, “How’s your day been?” or, “What’s your favorite food in this store?” or, “Who is the grumpiest customer you ever had?” Just strike up a little conversation with that person. You’ll make that person’s day, I promise you. Guess what? What you get back is just as good as what you give. That’s the beauty of connection. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s infinite in supply, and it’s good for you. Not many things meet those four criteria. It’s just so readily available.

Think of it now, connection at home. Connection to family. That’s sort of the spinal column of a connected life. If you live alone, it’s your extended family. The blood relatives that you have, those are people you really want to nourish, tend to try to get along with. If you happen to have children, have family dinner. Have outings. We bought our season tickets to the Patriots the day they hired Parcells. Our kids were very little. I knew the team would stop being a laughingstock and, sure enough. So much of their childhood was down there, a few miles to the south, throwing balls around the parking lot and having tailgate parties and just loving it. Make that family connection all that it possibly can be.

Then, connection to work. For kids, connection to school. It’s how you feel when you walk in the door. It’s not your performance at work or at school, it’s how you feel when you walk in the door. Is there someone you’re looking forward to seeing? Is there something you’re looking forward to doing? Do you feel safe? Do you feel permission to be real in your workplace, or do you have to leave half of yourself in the glove compartment? Do you feel permission to be who you actually are? Do you feel you have to be a phony? For kids, do you feel it’s okay to be who you are?

Dr. Hallowell’s Story of Growing Up With ADD and Dyslexia

How do you create that? For some kids, it’s easy. For me, it wasn’t. I started school back in 1955 in Chatham, down on Cape Cod. Back in the ’50s, it was just a quiet little town. We used to call it a drinking down with a fishing problem. I show up for first grade and I can’t read. Other kids were learning to read and I couldn’t do it. I felt embarrassed. I’d sit there at these little round tables, come to be my turn, I’d stammer, I’d stutter. Other kids were saying, “See Spot run.” I couldn’t decipher that. I didn’t get phonics. I have what’s called dyslexia. Back then, we didn’t know about that. I also have ADD, by the way. That’s another topic, but I wouldn’t change either one of those for the world. I think people who don’t have ADD have attention surplus disorder.

Anyways, there I am. I’m not reading. September, October, November, not reading. Back then in Chatham, most places, they didn’t have diagnoses for learning problems. If you couldn’t read, diagnosis, you were stupid. Treatment was, “Try harder.” If that didn’t work? You’re very stupid. I was lucky. One of the many reasons I believe in God, I had this amazing teacher by the name of Mrs. Eldridge. Now, she had no formal training in reading that I know of, except she’d been teaching first grade for about 75 years. She was this very short lady, very plump, very round. White curly hair. During reading period, she would simply come over when it was my turn to read and sit down next to me.

It was back when old ladies used to wear a lot of powder, remember that? She’d sort of arrive like a sugar doughnut, sprinkling these clumps and these sort of lilac-scents. She’d put her arm around me. There’d be her forearm there and my little head here, and this enormous cushion right here, and she would hug me into that. I would feel so safe, and none of the other kids would laugh at me because I had the mafia sitting next to me. That was my treatment. That was my IEP, was Mrs. Eldridge’s arm. That was brilliant. It was all she really could do, but it was all she needed to do.

The Real Disabilities

That arm took out of the equation the real disabilities. The real disabilities, they’re not dyslexia and ADD. They’re shame and fear and believing you’re stupid and believing you’re second rate. That’s what disables someone. The other stuff we can deal with.

I looked forward to reading period. That’s pretty amazing. You take a six-year-old little boy and have him look forward to publicly demonstrating his incompetence every day. I looked forward to that hug. Without knowing it, the part of my brain that had some talent with words was able to inch its way out instead of getting stomped on by ridicule, if not punishment, which they also used to do. By the end of the year, I was still the worst reader in the class, but I was the most enthusiastic student of reading you could find. That arm has stayed around me ever since. I’m still a painfully slow reader. It takes me forever to get through a book. I rarely finish books. My wife says, “I don’t know how you know anything.”

I majored in English at Harvard College while doing pre-med and graduated with high honors and I make my living with words now. That never would have happened had I had a different first grade teacher. That woman, Mrs. Eldridge, I thank her in every way I possibly can, as often as I can. That’s the power of connection. That’s the power of connection. We underestimate it because we’re going so fast and we’re looking for meds, which are great. Meds are wonderful. We’re looking for the techno solutions to just about everything, but we’re forgetting the most powerful solution there is, which is connection.

The Power of Connection

the power of connection

Another quick story. Where I went to high school, I went to Exeter, which is a prep school up in New Hampshire, very rigorous school. Saved my life in so many ways. Anyway, there was a kid ahead of me who was only admitted to the school because he was a faculty member’s son. He couldn’t spell, he couldn’t do math, he couldn’t do foreign languages. He rarely got a grade above a D, which was not cool at Exeter. You were supposed to get good grades. It took him five years to get through the four-year curriculum. They finally let him graduate, and said, “Go away, don’t come back.”

His name is John Irving. He went on to become one of the world’s great novelists, probably Exeter’s most famous living alum. Exeter now begs him to come back. He didn’t crump and die because he had a Mrs. Eldridge, only in his case it wasn’t a classroom teacher, it was his wrestling coach, Ted Seabrook. If you’ve read his books, there’s a lot about wrestling in there. It was the power of connection, someone who believed in him. One point of connection can cancel out a host of negative disconnections. That’s the power of connection. You’ve got to get some somewhere, that person who believes in you.

You think back in your life, who made your life? Who was responsible for the joy you feel today? I guarantee you, it’ll be some connection, someone who believed in you, a teacher, a coach, a grandparent, a parent, somebody who believed in you, who got a kick out of you and somehow or other inspired you. You said, “I want to work hard for that person.” Again, it’s this power of connection that we’re not nearly emphasizing enough. It’s wonderful that Massachusetts leads the nation now in the test scores. That’s just great. I just hope we’re paying as much attention to connection scores, if you will, as we are to test scores. That’s what sustains a person over time.

Get a Pet

What else goes into a connected life? A pet. You really should have a pet, preferably a dog. We have a Jack Russell named Ziggy. That little thing is a walking antidepressant. You cannot be sad around him. If you’re a cat person, that’s okay. Fish don’t do it. I’m told parrots can be very good connectors, if you want to have a parrot. Have a pet. They’re worth the poops. They really are. I highly recommend pets. They’re the best connectors we’ve got going, particularly dogs.

Get Outside

Connection to nature. Get outside. Get outside. You don’t have to run, just walk around. Look at the sky. When’s the last time you saw the sky? Look at the sky. Remember as kids we used to look at the clouds and imagine what they looked like and the shapes they were and the dreams you’d have? Go do that. If it’s a nice day, lie down on the grass and look at the clouds. Nobody will laugh at you. Maybe someone will join you.

Go to your Favorite Places

Connection to places. Favorite places, favorite haunts. Maybe the corner at Starbucks or maybe the deli you like to go to. They don’t have to be exalted places or vacation destinations, just favorite places, places where you feel connected, where you feel comfortable, where you feel that dose of vitamin C.

Do Things You Like to Do

Connection to activities. Things you like to do. Things you look forward to doing. You’ve got to have a few of those, things you look forward to doing. Don’t let life turn into just one sort of semi-dreaded obligation after another. Your career should be the overlap of three circles, what you’re really good at doing, what you really like to do, and what someone will pay you to do. Where those three overlap, that should be your career. Spend as much damn time as you can, I call that your sweet spot, in there. Delegate and hire out the rest.

Social Networking

Connection to clubs, to teams, to organizations. You’re coming here tonight. I can’t tell you how much I admire you for doing this. It’s something that so many people pass up. By coming here, you’re supporting each other, and you’re extending your life. By supporting institutions that you believe in, not only do you help the institution, you help yourself and you help each other. Studies on social network have now proven this, that, as one person feels happier, other people feel happier, even if they don’t know that person. Good feeling is contagious. Unfortunately, so is bad feeling, but we’re not feeling bad tonight so we’re not going to do that.

Connection to ideas, to ideals, to a mission. Connection to the world of art, to beauty, to the past, to traditions. You see how rich it is? You see, as I tick them off, how that’s where life has its meaning?

Connection to Friends

Connection to friends. Oh my gosh, as you get older, friends matter so much. Great line from Yeats, he said, “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends and say, “My glory was I had such friends.”” Treasure your friends. Keep up with them. I say to someone, “Your friends with Joe? When was the last time you saw him?” “Oh, three years ago.” That’s a memory. That’s not a friend. You’ve got to call him up, “Hey, Joe. How are you? Long time no see.” It only takes a few minutes. Now, the beauty, you can reach anyone. Think right now, who is someone that you’ve lost a little touch with that tomorrow you could connect with? I promise you, you’ll feel good and so will that person.

Spiritual Connection

Then, some kind of connection to a spiritual world, whatever that might be. In today’s very scientific age, a lot of people skip over that, or you had a bad experience with organized religion growing up, or you don’t like what the church is doing these days, whatever, some reason that you’ve kind of rejected it. I urge you not to do that. You don’t have to join a religion to have a spiritual connection, but you do need to reserve time to connect to what is beyond knowledge. That is the spiritual connection.

It’s not a connection to a set of rules or dogma. That’s to be avoided. I love the prayer that goes, “Lord, help me always to search for the truth but spare me the company of those who have found it.” It’s not about ramming answers down people’s throats. It’s a matter of wondering together, wondering together, “Why are we here? What’s out there?” There’s no answer, but you can hypothesize, you can intuit, you can have intimations. That’s the spiritual connection.

Now, I happen to be an Episcopalian, so we do it in that framework. We go to Christ Church in Cambridge. I love that place. I love it. All three of our kids were baptized there. I look forward to going and really get that dose of vitamin C. Don’t worry, I’m not a religious nut at all, but I believe. I have disbelief, but I also believe and I take enormous strength from that. Again, it’s right there for the taking. Instead of reading The New York Times on Sunday morning, maybe go to church, synagogue, whatever, or maybe just contemplate in the backyard and wonder about the big questions. Don’t leave them for when you’re feeling desperate.

Open Yourself Up To Connection

As you live a life saturated with these connections, you’ll find you don’t need Prozac, you don’t need a lot of money, you don’t need fame, that you’ve got what you need. It’s right there every day in little doses, in mega doses. It’s right there. All you have to do is open yourself to it. Push past the fear and anxiety, open up enough to take a few chances. Just drink in, revel in the short time we have to be alive, and to really milk it for all its worth by connecting. You will feel fulfilled, the people around you will feel fulfilled. You won’t have to spend hardly any money. Science proves it works.

Okay, let me send you all home to connect and take back the control you’ve given away. Just revel in it. Revel in the power of connection. Good night.

Closing Statements

That’s it. If you have a question or a suggestion, call us toll free at 844-55-CONNECT, or e-mail us at [email protected], or go to our website at distractionpodcast.com. To hear more mini and full length episodes, subscribe to Distraction on iTunes. Thanks so much for listening.

Distraction is produced by Collisions, the podcast division of CRN International. Collisions, podcasts for curious people.

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “Live from Boston: how to Handle Your Fast-Paced Life”. Distraction is available on iTunes.

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