We live in a world of information overload where it’s easy to lose focus on what matters most. From a 24/7 barrage of social media to fervent multi-tasking,- we’re distracted by micro-urgencies that scream for our attention: right now! But in addition to these glaring external distractions, there’s a secondary, subtle set of distractions that are equally pervasive and even more debilitating. I call them “mental hijackers.”

These mental hijackers envelope us taking us out of the present moment, and causing us to lose two of the most important resources we have as leaders — focus and perspective.

Here are four common mental hijackers:

Worry: Worry causes us to fabricate and fixate on negative predictions about the future as if they are actually going to happen. Worry triggers emotions such as anxiety and fear.

Regret: Regret leaves us feeling bad- even beating ourselves up over-something that occurred in the recent or distant past. Shame, guilt and sadness are the dominant moods connected to regret.

Resentment: Resentment traps us with bitterness in the face of disappointment. When we are resentful we find it difficult to let go of feelings of irritation, blame, anger or envy.

Resignation: Resignation is a sign that we’ve given up. In the face of discomfort, obstacles or overwhelm, we become the victim of our circumstances. The overwhelming emotion associated with resignation is defeat.

Each of these hijackers hands us a well-honed script characterized by false declaration. For example, the script for resignation might sound like: “This problem I face is pervasive and permanent. There’s no way out and no use trying.”

The good news is we can adopt personal practices to prevent mental hijackers from overtaking our emotions. We can take back the script by subduing hijackers. And instead of making rash decisions or knee-jerk reactions – lead with presence. I’ll describe these strategies in the next few blogs.

For now, begin to notice what keeps you up at night or what occupies your mind on your commute home. Is one of these hijackers a frequent flier in your head? What happens to you when you get hijacked? What situations elicit the hijacker? What gifts and capabilities do you surrender to the hijacker?

Photo Credit: Kai Schreiber