Distracting ourselves can definitely feel like a challenge, or rather, not distracting ourselves. This week we talk about all the ways we distract ourselves and the very limited reasons we do it. As I was researching this topic, I checked Facebook 4 times. The truth is that we can try to blame our small hand held devices and social networks but we had distractions long before those ever existed. They just weren’t a click away. And this idea of “multi-tasking” fits in the same bucket
What are these distractions all about? Here is a word that explains a lot of it: Loneliness. Sometimes creative work is “lonely”. This may be why the “coffee shop” is so enticing…and I love working at them myself. Suddenly checking email or facebook gives us a moment of connection and the illusion that someone is thinking of us and we also don’t have to feel the feeling of “loneliness” either. Louis C.K. really speaks to this in this clip on Conan. Creative work can feel a bit intense at times and so, we get a break/respite when we drift away from it. The issue here is that it isn’t being done consciously but instead impulsively.
The slowness of progress can make us want to run away too. We may feel moments of inadequacy as we are creating something and that doesn’t feel so good if we’re stuck. The other truth is that controlled attention is harder to maintain than stimulus-driven attention. Stimulus driven attention is driven by those alerts that pop up everywhere on our phones, for example. Think of it like the phone ringing or someone tapping you repeatedly on the shoulder. Controlled attention is us choosing where we put our attention. There is definitely a benefit to removing these alerts.
Does it matter if we improve our ability to hold our controlled attention? Yes, it does. For a few reasons which we talk about in the show which include not just efficiency but more so, our effectiveness. Possibly more important is that being able to direct our attention also decreases the overall stress levels in our body. The point here is to choose our “distractions” consciously and take breaks all the while learning to focus our attention. Attention is a skill that can be trained and developed, no matter who you are!