“You need to pay more attention to me,” said my husband as he walked into the room.
“What?” I asked as I looked up from my book.
I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about.
“You need to tell me when I have food on the front of my shirt,” he said.
Then he began laughing as he told me he had found dried salsa on the front of the shirt he had been wearing all morning. Evidently, he had spilled it the night before, and neither one of us had noticed.
Of course, Larry was teasing me, and he hadn’t gone out in public with the dirty shirt.
But I was reminded once again: I’m very absentminded.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines absentminded as, “Deep in thought and heedless of present circumstances or activities; preoccupied.”
“Deep in thought” sounds nice—rather cerebral, refined. But for me, deep in thought has often meant I’m mulling over something I did or didn’t do or that I need to do, thoughts that stir up anxiety, obsessions that lead to compulsions.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can keep those of us with the disorder in our heads, obsessing about harm or cleanliness or morality, reviewing compulsions we’ve done to determine if we’ve done them right.
OCD takes up time. But there are also the lost conversations, the lost movies, the lost sunset, the lost smile—all the things “out there” that we’ve lost because we’ve been deep in OCD thoughts.
When I was in college, my mother took me to an ear, nose and throat doctor to have my hearing checked. She said I asked others to repeat themselves too often. “Huh?” and “What?” were too standard for me.
The doctor checked my hearing and said I could “hear grass grow.” He said I needed to start paying attention to people when they talked to me.
I think some of my absentmindedness is also related to my introversion. I’m quiet. I often feel more comfortable listening and watching than I do talking. I can easily float away on my imagination, on a story I’ve made up in my thoughts as I people watch.
I forget where I am. I can take a 20-minute shower, walk out in front of cars in the parking lot, forget what I was going to say, walk into a room and not remember why—because I’ve gotten lost in my imagination or memories.
During dinner recently, my husband tried to tell me something, and when I asked “What did you say?” for the third time, he stopped talking until I looked up and paid attention.
So I have been brainstorming ways to help me focus better and be less absentminded:
*Do one thing at a time.
*Be intentionally mindful of the moment: notice the sounds, the smells, the sights around me.
*Look at people when they talk to me.
*Remember the river of thoughts and let troublesome thoughts float on by.
*Designate times to daydream and ponder.
I think I’ll always be somewhat absentminded. But maybe next time I’ll be the first to notice the salsa on my husband’s shirt.
Are you absentminded? How do you focus your attention where it needs to be?