The curse of a focused mind

I have a very focused mind. This focus is helpful when I am writing sermons, or writing articles for the Observer. Sometimes this focus is not so helpful in daily life, because this focus means I can only process one thought at a time.

The other day, I was walking up the stairs from the basement to get a drink, and my wife asked, “Are you just going to leave that there?”

“Leave what where?” I asked.

She shook her head and pointed at a dirty dish sitting on the shelf next to the stairway, “That.”

“Oh, I didn’t notice it,” I said.

“You didn’t see the dish sitting right there as you walked by?” she inquired with some incredulity.

It would not be accurate to say that I did not see it. I am sure that I did see it in the same way that I saw the walls, the steps, the ceiling, and everything else within my field of vision. The problem was that it did not enter my field of consciousness. Sure, it was there. If it had been floating in midair in the path I was taking, I would not have bumped into it. I would have stepped around it, focused on the glass of water upstairs. It did not make it into the part of my brain that says, “Hey, there’s a dirty dish there. You might want to do something with it.”

“Well,” I said, “not really.”

I grabbed the dish, took it up to the kitchen, and put it in the dishwasher. My focused mind did it to me again. I had become so focused on getting the dish to the dishwasher that I forgot what I had gone upstairs to do.

This is a common problem for me. If I am going to the store to get two things, there is no need to make a list. I can walk from the car to the store thinking, “Milk and eggs. Milk and eggs.” If I add a third thing, I need to send myself a text to remember the list. If not, I will get the milk, eggs, and a random third item, because I know I am supposed to get three things. I have no idea what the third thing is after I’ve grabbed the eggs.

Giving up on trying to remember what I had come upstairs to do, I started back down the stairs. Then it hit me. “I’m really thirsty,” I thought. “Oh, right, I went upstairs to get a glass of water.”

My wife noticed me turn around halfway down and head back upstairs. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Just getting in some exercise,” I said, embarrassed to admit what I was really doing. “I think I’ll get a drink while I’m up there.”

Many men have told me they have this same problem with being too focused. It’s not that we can’t see. It’s that we can’t process more than one thing at a time.

RJ Johnson

I have been a priest for 16 years.  I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010.  If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.

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Volume 8, Issue 22, Posted 9:42 AM, 11.15.2016