Now that I’ve checked my lottery tickets, had a bath, washed and dried my hair, made lunch and a cup of tea, I think I’m ready to start writing this blog about distraction. The topic has been dancing around in my brain for a while now because I’m fascinated by human behavior and want to understand more about the role distraction plays in all of our lives. So, I put my distractions aside and here we are. Hahaha.
“Your results are the product of either personal focus or personal distractions. The choice is yours.”
– John Di Lemme
Here’s the question: is distraction a good thing or a bad thing? Well there’s a role for distraction and it’s helpful when it leads to interesting results. Sometimes we look for distraction because our work feels monotonous (I’m looking at you bills) or perhaps we have a short attention span and require ongoing stimulation to stay engaged. If you’re having a challenging day, being distracted by a loved one, a furry or human friend is welcome medicine. There’s nothing like a good laugh to clear out stress or using proven mindfulness tools to take your attention away from feeling unsettled. So, I see the value in distraction but I also understand there’s a flip side.
Distractions are everywhere and we hold one of the biggest diversions in our hands when we scroll on our smart phone or dopamine dispenser. Dopamine is a feel good neurotransmitter the brain releases when we do something that meets a need like eating. Since about 2013, our devices have gradually crept into our lives and taken us over as a top distraction. Regulating how much time we engage with our devices is a real challenge for us humans, especially those with developing minds.
“One way to boost our willpower and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.”
– Daniel Goleman
There are so many expectations placed on us at every age and every stage of life that we often turn to distraction to palliate the discomfort of feeling pressured to perform. Too many people move through their day without being intentional around how their day will unfold, so there’s time wasted and opportunities missed. It has to be said that procrastination is one of life’s most challenging distractions to manage and one of the best excuses we humans use when it comes to avoiding achieving something great, like paying the bills or writing the first chapter in your yet unwritten book. Setting an intention at the beginning of the day can be helpful when it comes to guiding our behavior and focus which will determine the results we’ll get. Committing to half an hour a day or each week on the bills or the book will move you closer to realizing your goal. Make sure to prioritize activities in your day and put yourself and social connection with others near or at the top of the list.
Worrying or ruminating are common habits of distraction that are more like place holders than productive practices because they achieve nothing; they’re like chewing bubble gum to solve a math problem. Recognizing that there are situations in life we have no control over and taking some small action on the situation instead of worrying about it helps to lower the stress hormones activated when we think too much.
“All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to concentrate.”
– Julio Cortazar
Some people consider daydreaming a waste of time but I disagree. I think we should make time to day dream because that’s when we’re really connected to our imagination and in that creative space, our logical thinking mind can rest. Remember, there’s no expiry date on dreaming and goal setting, so feel free to imagine whatever you wish. When I get stuck while I’m writing, I’ll look out the window and let my mind wander. It doesn’t take long before an idea pops into my head and I’m back at it. So I’m living proof that daydreaming can be a productive practice. It just shouldn’t be a full time job because action, even small action, is the secret sauce when it comes to bringing our dreams to life.
We have high expectations for ourselves and sometimes get to the end of the day feeling like we haven’t accomplished much. Remember there will always be a to-do list and perhaps the distraction you chose, whether it was a walk around the block, a chat with a friend or a good laugh while watching a funny movie was just the thing you needed to make your day rewarding. We are so hard on ourselves and that is certainly counterproductive. So be gentle with yourself dear friends and enjoy every moment of everything because nobody is keeping score of how many things you check off your list. In fact the people who love you just want to see you be happy. So don’t dismiss distractions entirely; rather learn to embrace and manage them, so you can be well and live well.