One of the numerous problems I experience with my mental health is an extreme form of what is known as the “butterfly mind“, that is, I am easily distracted and my mind flits from one thing to another, never settling on one thing long enough to ever complete anything, always seeking novelty and getting bored long before a job is done.

But in addition to that, one of my mental compulsions (as part of my OCD) is to make sure I process a thought and investigate it to its conclusion, and make sure that I “check” on the thought periodically to make sure I don’t lose the memory of it – because if I do, I will lose something of great importance. It’s sounds completely irrational, and it is. And it’s easy to see from looking at one specific example of my madness, that this is an abnormal way of thinking. But the psychological mechanisms behind this obvious error are more insidious in an everyday context.

I sit down to start a task with great enthusiasm, and then I recall other important things that I also need to do. These tasks might only be small 5-minute jobs, but my mind simultaneously sees them all as equally important, and I find it impossible to prioritise, as pushing one item further back in the queue might lead me to forget exactly how to perform the task. It is a form of paralysis found somewhere on the spectrum between single-mindedness and efficient multi-tasking. I’m completely stuck in a sense of simultaneous inertia and anticipation.

The best chance I have at beating my brain at its own game is to make to-do lists – it helps me in two ways:

1. Even though find it difficult, if I can break my chores down into tasks that are small enough to do in one go. It’s still difficult, but more manageable.

2. I can outsource some of my brain power by adding items to a list as and when they occur. It frees up mental space that I would have used remembering endless lists full of items of paramount importance.

It doesn’t solve all my problems, and it doesn’t turn me into the organised and focused student that I used to be, but it makes my life liveable and more productive than it would be otherwise.


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