How Do You Focus in the Middle of Chaos?


If you’re like me, you’re living a crazy busy life and trying to figure out how to navigate through it while clinging on to some sense of peace at the end of the day.

At any given moment when you step into our small farmhouse you’ll find two things: messy rooms and a lot of noise.

Our family operates a small-scale vegetable farm, growing produce for our local community. There’s always something going on, from planting to harvest, and certainly not enough time to get it all done in. This is a side business that we manage in addition to my full-time job as a sales manager and my wife’s full time job as a stay-at-home-mom.

We have four young kids (six actually, but the oldest two are grown) starting at 8 down to the twins who are 3. They prowl the house like a small pack of wolves. The living room is their launching pad, their wrestling ring, their stage (dancing and singing and sometimes juggling), their football field and often their canvas for destruction. Imagination isn’t lost on our children, although I think their volume control has certainly been. Having a conversation in the same room? You have to yell. Quiet dinner? Hmmm… Watching a movie? Now that’s funny. Have you ever tried loading four kids up to go anywhere? On time?

Just this morning we had three soccer games, the first starting at 8am. 8-year-old doesn’t know where his shin guards are. 6-year-old has a melt down because he has to take the shirt off he slept in. As soon as I got our 3-year-old son dressed, and started working on getting his sister’s hair brushed, he somehow finds chocolate and sneaks off in the other room to eat it. I think I’ve got everyone finally ready to go and the 3 year old boy comes out of the room with a sheepish grin, his face smeared brown and drooling chocolate all over his clean shirt.

It’s just a moment. But each day is made up of individual moments like these that, by the end of the day, seem like one long, exhausting train ride through a burning mountain.

This is our crazy, hectic, always busy, never boring life. I’m not complaining. I love my life. But I’m certainly on a journey to figure out how to bring more focus and peace into my day.

Chaos is defined as a state of disorder or confusion and it can come from many things. On a macro scale, chaos can flow out of civil unrest, natural disaster or political ambivalence, disrupting our lives even if we are not physically present as those things occur. If you tune into the news or spend any amount of time on social media you’ll agree we’ve certainly had our share of national upheaval recently. On a smaller, more personal scale, you’ll find a more acute kind of chaos in many of our businesses and homes. Unhealthy workplace culture, personal turmoil and busyness contribute to this.

Stress in America is on the rise. According to a study driven by the American Psychological Association, 71 percent of Americans reported feeling the symptoms of stress in the prior month when they were polled.

So how do we find peace in the midst of chaos?

It comes down to focus. If we are focused on our negative environment we will be ruled by it. We have to focus on the right things. Which often means being intentional about how we respond to the noise and the overwhelming sense of dread or anxiety. Keeping the right focus is the key to finding satisfaction and gratitude in every day.

Here’s are a few things that I try to focus on to guide me through the chaotic moments like the one I had this morning:

1) Focus on the truth

We are exposed every day to a substantial amount of untruth. Social media, conversations between coworkers, blogs, advertisements…you name it. Truth has become relative to the point it’s often hard to know what it is. Do you ever ask yourself why you believe the things you believe? Ever analyze your thoughts? Untruth creates negativity in our own minds, and often distorts how we see the world and our place in the world.

When chaos abounds, we need a healthy mindset to allow us to remain positive. Anxiety and stress often fatigue our minds so that its hard to find clarity. This is where we start to believe things about ourselves, the people around us or our circumstances that simply aren’t true. I focus on what I know to be true and try to purge anything in that moment that doesn’t align with that truth.

Here are some cornerstone truths that help me find my center whenever I’m knocked off-balance:

  • I am loved by God and made with a purpose (Psalm 129:14, John 3:16)
  • God has a plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • I have everything I need within me to do what I need to do (Phil 4:13)
  • I am free from the things of this world (John 8:36)

2) Just breathe

This sounds too simple. But take a hard look at yourself the next time you feel stress or anxiety coming on. What are you doing? Or more importantly, what are you NOT doing?

On a biological level, every cell in our body craves oxygen. When we inhale properly we are feeding our body. When we are stressed, our breathing shallows and this contributes to the overall tension within our body and the diminishing of our mental clarity.

You can find many articles and studies on deep breathing techniques and the benefits of it, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose, count three long seconds, exhale through your mouth. While you’re doing this, focus on step one above, and you’ll feel a strong sense of relief wash over you after only a few moments.

3) Surrender

You are surrendering to the moment, not the negativity or the chaos. You are not throwing in the towel and letting the situation overcome you. You are simply refusing to struggle with it, and by doing so regaining a small sense of relief. By surrendering to the moment, you open yourself up to learning something new about yourself. This is a rich opportunity to grow. How we respond to stress often reveals hidden things within ourselves that need to be healed, forgiven or removed.

Moving through steps one and two will give you the mental clarity to master this step. And having a journal nearby will allow you to write down what you learn so that you can work on it later.

I can either get frustrated and yell at my 3-year-old son for getting chocolate on his clothes, which will lead to him melting down, an overwhelming sense of guilt on my part, and an even longer delay in getting to the soccer game (see how all that cascades?). Or I can breathe, try to find the humor in it, and surrender to the fact that we’re going to be late to the game and it’s just something I can’t control.

4) Remove yourself from the situation

Sometimes you can’t surrender. Sometimes there isn’t a learning experience waiting to be revealed. Sometimes walking away is the only way to gain control.

Pressure is mounting, noise is escalating, and you feel overwhelmed to the point that you can’t even think. You’re drowning. Stand up and walk away. Go outside for a few moments. Find an empty room. You are in control. That’s the important thing to remember. When in the middle of chaos, control feels like it’s been stripped out of your hands. This is a lie. You may not have control over your environment, but you do have control over how you respond to it.

Take a moment to walk away and regain the strength you need to face the moment.

If you have the ability to remove the situation from yourself, then do so. Remember, chaos comes from all sides, not just in our household or business. Put down your phone, stop watching the news, take a break from social media. Unplug. If chaos is a person, figure out how you can confront them about their toxic behavior, or how you can limit your exposure to them.

Don’t let chaos control your life

The point I’m making here is that in order to live a holistically healthy life (spirit, mind and body) we have to be intentional about how we deal with chaos and the stress it causes. Part of this is being proactive (feed your head with positive truth, declutter your life, practice gratitude) and part is being reactive (what you choose to focus on in the midst of it).

But the moment we start seeing ourselves as people who are meant to overcome instead of victims to our circumstances, we will find we have the ability respond to daily chaos in a way that not only allows us to grow, but inspires others.

– Sean


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