Character Chats

Staying Focused With Distractions

How can we stay focused when we are distracted?

Here at True Balance Karate in Downers Grove, Illinois, we have a social emotional learning program called True Character. I’m Master H, owner and chief instructor here at the studio, and I have two master’s degrees in education. And we’ve developed this program to best meet the needs of our students as young as four and as old as 84.

And this month we’re talking about focus. And last week we kind of defined what it was. We talked about focusing our eyes, focusing our ears, focusing our mind and our body and what all of that looks like.

Types of Distractions

But let’s face it, we are all going to get distracted at some point. We’re all going to be pulled in another direction. Somebody’s going to be talking and pull us off task, or we’re going to feel like there’s a lot to do on our to-do list and it’s going to overwhelm us. And then we’re going to lose our focus and we’re not going to be having that ability to really pay attention. And it’s in those times that we have to think about what we need to do.

So let’s think about it from the standpoint of our younger students, right? Our school age kids, our elementary school kids, those types of things that would pull their focus away when they’re in school. Might be a friend talking to them. It might be noise outside, like the grass being cut. I even actually had a student one time where the buzzing of the light was distracting for them. And so different subjects, once I found that out, I would actually have him go to a different space. Like for math class because it was right over his head, he would go a little ways down to a different table to work on his work and that seemed to help as well.

Overcoming Obstacles

So what can we do? Let’s talk about that for our young kids. If there’s a neighbor talking, we can remind them to be quiet. We could turn our body so as not to be giving the body language that we would be listening to them. We could ask to go to a different space or a different location. That might help too. If it’s the lawnmower suddenly going, maybe we ask the teacher if they can close the window. Maybe it’s just practicing a little bit of patience until it goes past and using our focus like a muscle, growing it, trying to make it stronger, trying to strengthen it that way. Some things we don’t have control over, other things we do. So it’s a matter of how do we find that best idea.

There’s sometimes where something that startles us can help us lose our focus. My daughter- she told me a story when she was in high school about somebody dropping their books and it distracted her and it took her a little bit to get back on task. At that point, well, there’s no need to ask for help and there’s no need to shush your neighbor. It’s just a matter of flexing your focus muscle and reminding yourself of what it was that you were doing, which comes back to things like priorities. What is my priority right now? Is my priority getting this work done or is my priority figuring out why the books got dropped to the floor?

As adults, we have a lot of things that’ll pull us in different directions. Our high school kids as well have a lot of things that pull them in different directions. So for me anyway, personally, what helps me focus is creating that to-do list, that priority list, that this is what I must accomplish today list, and then checking it off as we go along. I try not to put too many things on there. I try to keep it to three or four so as not to overwhelm myself, but still moving forward and that kind of thing. And I try to make sure that it’s the biggest jobs and the ones that have the most priority so that we can get things done.

And so as we’re working on flexing our focus muscle, as we’re working on helping ourselves pay more attention, asking for help, reminding ourselves what we need to be doing, are some ways that we can do that. Me, I like to listen to music in my earbuds. There’s times that Master Helsdon walks in and he starts to ask me a question and I completely miss it because the music is helping me stay focused on the task at hand. But at the same time, if it helps me get what I need to get done, then that’s a good thing. It’s not a TV screen going, it’s just music in the background while I’m typing away working on this kind of curriculum for you guys.

Building Good Habits

So as we’re going through and working on these things, take a look at some of our habits. Do any of our habits that we currently have take away from our focus, flipping through social media or jumping on to our iPad to watch a brief video or answering an email? I have taken email alerts off of my phone and check them in the morning and then in the evening to help me maintain my focus so that it doesn’t pull me away. So as we’re working through this, pay attention to what you actually do. How much of it pulls away your focus and what can you do to start to address that? And we’ll all work together that way.

Thanks, and I’ll see you on the mat!


True Balance Karate was founded in 2012 by Master Sue and Paul Helsdon.

We offer kids karate lessons for pre-school children ages 3-6 and elementary age kids ages 7 and up. These lessons are designed to develop the critical building blocks kids need — specialized for their age group — for school excellence and later success in life.

Our adult martial arts training is a complete adult fitness and conditioning program for adults who want to lose weight, get (and stay) in shape, or learn self-defense in a supportive environment.

Instructors can answer questions or be contacted 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week at 630-663-2000. You can also contact us here