Dealing with Distraction
Whilst there can be healthy distractions in life — particularly those unexpected laughs, we didn’t think we needed — there are also unhealthy distractions that can potentially have pretty big consequences. These are the kinds of distractions that can often pull us away from focusing on the stuff that really matters. If unattended, these distractions can turn into regrets that may surface later in life. If we think of them as any good sports team thinks about their defence, while it’s not as exciting as the offensive stuff, we can underestimate their power to change the game.
Life is like “drinking from a fire-hose…being soaked in information”.
- Sue Lehmann
According to Professor Earl Miller, a top neuroscientist, the size and capacity of the human brain hasn’t significantly changed in 40,000 years — unlike our computer or phone, we don’t have software updates to help us process all the information we are served on a day-to-day basis. As scientist Sue Lehmann put it, our current experience of life is like “drinking from a fire-hose…being soaked in information”.
Although external factors such as information overload and technology can play a role and exacerbate why we’re so distracted, they’re not the only reasons. There are other internal forces at play — it’s what we call our flavours of distraction and they can affect the most important people in our lives, our most important priorities and the ability to just be more present. If we could summarise the most common flavours of distractions we’re seeing today, they would be:
- A focus on the ‘Uncontrollables’. The things we can’t 100% control, but want to anyway. Everything from other people’s opinions and actions, to external conditions or outcomes.
- ‘Unhealthy habits’. A culmination of unhelpful habits that we’re not acknowledging, or perhaps acknowledging but not changing. Here we risk falling into denial, excuses or rationalisation, ultimately pulling us further away from our life priorities — the stuff that really matters most.
- An inability to love ourselves ‘Unconditionally’. Not believing we are enough, exactly as we are right now, warts and all! With limitations placed on our sense of self worth, our wellbeing and identity is continually compromised.
Without identifying and addressing our individual flavours of distraction, we’ll never stop scrolling someone else’s life, chasing society’s version of success, or worrying about what’s been or is to come. Because the reality is, if we don’t find out and love who we are first, our own company becomes shit scary and we’ll never work out what we want or how to get there.
However like with most things in life, there are always two sides of the coin to consider — distractions aren’t all bad! When it comes to distractions, especially distracting activities, we define each side like this:
Side 1: Does the distraction create alive time? This kind of distraction makes our reality better — we are presently learning, connecting and utilising the moment.
Side 2: Does the distraction create dead time? We passively engage in these distractions to wait out or escape a current, often uncomfortable, reality.
Dead time distractions are often used to avoid negative experiences. Perhaps scrolling through social media to procrastinate, avoiding a tough work presentation or escaping the anxiety, fear or loneliness we have in our own life. On the flip side, alive time distractions promote positive and present experiences such as scrolling social media to find a laugh or to get a perspective check. If you want more on the alive time, dead time idea — look up world-renowned strategist Robert Greene and his work. It sounds simple when dissected like this, but in reality it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. The same distraction can create both alive and dead time, often changing based on our circumstances over any given time and day. Understanding WHY we engage in a distraction is key.
If the distraction creates alive time, the answers may sound like “to learn something new” or “to bring a laugh to my day” or “to connect with someone”. But it doesn’t mean dead time distractions are always bad. A few hours on the couch binge-watching a TV series to escape the stress of work can be a welcome distraction… if it’s temporary. The problem lies when we rely on this kind of distraction for too long as a way to deal with the challenges life throws.
The way around these distractions is to be brave enough to do the introspective work. Because if you don’t take control of your focus in life, your distractions just might.
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