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Death by Distraction!

Everyone I know seeks distraction. In fact I think we are drowning in distraction. I recently had a friend of mine tell me that she wasn’t really watching the television, she simply had it on to distract her while she did her house work (I could see the problem).

We transport our minds to some other time or place or world, where it can be safe and insulated from the pain or boredom  of day-to-day life. We stare at our digital devices, we obsess about the past or our potential futures, make plans we’ll never keep, or simply try to forget. 

We eat, drink, and surf ourselves into numbness to dull the reality of our problems. We use books, movies, games, and music to carry us to another world where no pain or disappointment exists, and everything always feels easy and good and right. Fantasy has taken the place of life. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with distraction. We all need some sort of diversion to keep us sane. However, we need to make sure that we’re choosing our distractions and our distractions aren’t choosing us. 

The question is are we choosing our distractions, or are we simply unable to opt out of distraction. We need to know when we’re checking out. Our distraction needs to be planned and moderated in bite-sized chunks. We can’t binge on distraction. It’s dangerous! 

Most people spend much of their day drowning in a sea of distraction without even realizing it. I do it, too. The other night at dinner, I pulled out my phone to look at my calendar, and next thing I knew, I was browsing through my emails. Meanwhile, my wife is staring at me as if I just had a lobotomy or something.

I’m getting better. This only happens about 12, or 20 times per day. Or sometimes I do that thing where I’ll have Pinterest open, and then I’ll open another tab. I don’t even realize I do it, but it’s my mind’s automatic move to disconnect (or in this case, disconnect from its disconnection).

We like to tell ourselves that we know just how long we’ve been wasting our time. But we’re usually wrong. We think we work more than we do (studies show most people top out somewhere around three hours of actual work per day, the rest is just messing around). We think we spend more time with our friends and loved ones than we do. 

We think we’re more present than we are, that we’re better listeners than we are, that we’re more thoughtful and intelligent than we are. But the truth is, we’re all pretty bad at this.

Now, some people take the hardline approach of trying to remove any and all distraction from their lives. This is a bit extreme. If time management and self-awareness was a religion, this approach would be like strapping a bomb to your chest. 

Really, now you’re just going to self-destruct (and probably harm a lot of people around you in the process).

The goal with distraction isn’t to blow up distraction, it’s merely to develop an awareness and take control of our distractions.

The goal here is to take some control. 

  • When are you engaging in an activity even though you don’t want?
  • When are you checking out mentally and why? Is it around family? Friends? Co-workers?
  • How many times do you find yourself saying “I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention?

Don’t judge these observations, simply have them. This is the first level of self-awareness, a simple understanding of where your mind goes and when. 

You must be aware of the paths your mind likes to take before you can begin to wonder why it takes those paths and whether those paths are helping or hurting you.

Stop drowning and start trending water!