Resilience Tip #25: Focus
By Shelley Hourston
For many people with chronic illness or disability, difficulty focusing is an unexpected and often unrecognized challenge. Difficulty focusing can be an invisible side effect of your primary health condition or disability. While your health care provider may mention to you that your chronic pain or depression or MS or… [fill in your disability here]… may affect your ability to focus, this is probably not going to be at the top of your list of concerns at first. And more to the point, difficulty focusing may not happen or become obvious to you immediately. Or it may not appear until you begin a specific medication or treatment. Or … you may notice a problem focusing as a consequence of worry—about money or stigma or another hurdle. And to complicate the issue, what I call “difficulty focusing” you might label “lack of concentration,” “fuzzy-headedness,” “attention deficit,” “lack of will-power,” or “inability to achieve goals.” Sometimes these labels are assigned by others and can cause us to give up before we even start.
Whatever name you use to describe focus or the lack of it, the person best equipped to address it is you. There are dozens of tips for improving concentration, achieving goals and increasing focus, but in my experience, not all will work for you. The challenge is identifying the strategies that produce results for you and your situation. Perhaps you already know what works or maybe you need to experiment with new tools. Tips for adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD) can be useful for people without this diagnosis. Research indicates that mindfulness meditation can improve focus. Psychologist Bill O’Hanlon has created a user-friendly hand-out called “Developing Focus” which you can access below.
Developing Focus Handout
You are stronger and smarter than you think!
By Shelley Hourston
Perhaps you already know that we are all stronger and smarter than we think. I wish that someone had shared this gem with me when I was floundering in my twenties. Now these many years later, I know this to be true and it does give me comfort. I’ve also discovered that it’s easier to access my strengths and knowledge than I’d thought.
Every one of us has a unique blend of strengths and knowledge woven throughout our life experience. Even if you are younger, your life experience is an extraordinary resource. The key is to learn how to separate the strengths and knowledge from the emotions that may be clouding our memories. We tend to minimize our abilities and resilience because we measure ourselves against other people or our own standards, dreams or ambitions. We learn to use a “glass half empty” or deficit perspective and we may believe that acknowledging our personal strengths is conceited or boastful. The truth is, we need to recognize and call on our personal strengths from time to time. Recalling our life experiences to identify our strengths can provide enormous practical and psychological benefits.
I’ve discovered a couple of tools that help turn life experience into resources and strategies. The first is Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a reversal of the standard “problem-solving approach.” Broadly speaking, AI involves a search for successes or “what’s working” and then utilizes the “lessons learned” to generate more success. The second tool is one that complements AI and is called Guided Autobiography (GAB). GAB is a method of life review or reminiscence—recalling and writing about your life experiences in short, focused chapters or stories. AI meshes nicely with GAB by focusing our attention on experiences of success or growth even when the experience may have originated as a difficult or challenging experience.
Learn to use AI and GAB
BCCPD is currently offering GAB and AI experience in both group and individual formats for people living with HIV and/or HCV in BC.
Group format—new groups forming now:
Small groups of people meet weekly for two hours over five weeks. It is possible to meet face-to-face in the Vancouver area. For those outside of Vancouver we’ll meet by teleconference at a time agreed upon by participants. Writing experience and skill is not required. You’ll be “writing like you talk” and the emphasis is on capturing the story rather than producing eloquent prose.
A teleconference group for HIV/HCV co-infected is currently forming. Two spaces are still available. Please contact me as soon as possible if you’re interested.
The individual interview is for people who may not wish to write or feel more comfortable with a one-to-one interview scenario. Meetings take place by phone. We meet for one hour and you’ll receive a copy of your story. You may wish to experience the individual interview before committing to a group class.
To participate or for more information, contact Shelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-875-0188 (toll-free 1-877-232-7400).
Print a PDF of this blog post: GAB March 2014