NOT EVERY ITCH NEEDS A SCRATCH.
We live in the age of distraction, but we also seek distraction.
Simply put, we want to distract ourselves from discomfort or some sort of pain, be it overwhelm, stress, boredom, uncertainty, or fatigue.
I’d argue that our attention is the most precious thing we have in today’s hectic world.
And that’s precisely why we need to learn how to manage it if we want to live a more intentional life.
As Nir Eyal put it in his excellent book, “Indistractable.’
“Traction moves you towards what you really want while distraction moves you further away. Being indistractible means striving to do what you say you will do.”*
Eyal, Nir. Indistractible (p. 197). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Think about it for a minute: a lot of our debt is due to distraction; a lot of our weight is due to distraction; many of our failed relationships are due to distraction.
It’s not just a missed assignment. It’s our entire lives.
We often like to think it’s just the outside world trying to do everything to distract us, but the truth is, although it does want our attention, it is us who WANT to be distracted.
Some of the triggers leading to distraction come from outside (environmental cues), and we need to limit them to stay on track, but others come from within (internal cues).
The key is to learn to deal with discomfort rather than attempting to escape it with distraction.
MINDFULNESS FOR COPING WITH CRAVINGS.
When you realize that most of our internal triggers come from wanting to escape some sort of discomfort, you’ll set yourself on a path to win your focus back.
If you imagine an internal trigger to be an itch, try to remember that not every itch needs a scratch.
***NOT EVERY ITCH NEEDS A SCRATCH.***
Meditation is a beautiful tool for the mind to become a bit less reactive.
All you have to do is take notice of the feeling and approach it with curiosity and no judgment.
For as long as you can, just ride the wave of craving or discomfort instead of giving in to distraction.
Remember – learn to notice the craving/discomfort, observe it with curiosity for a while, and not to react to it in any other way. Try to think why this craving arises, what was the root cause of it.
You can also come to an agreement with yourself that you will delay a reaction by 10 minutes. So after 10 minutes, ask yourself if the discomfort subsided or not. If not, decide how you want to react to it.
It takes time to see the change, but it’s worth the effort!
Remember that the mental space between the stimuli and your reaction is where your superpower resides.
BALANCING INPUT WITH THE OUTPUT
Nowadays, we’re surrounded by information on all fronts.
Input these days is everywhere, as long as we’re connected to the ‚outside’ world via the internet.
It’s busy out there, and many want a least a little bit of our attention.
Companies pay an incredible amount of money to get our attention, and I think it’s becoming one of our most precious commodities we need to protect.
What you pay attention to becomes more essential for you too. So be very selective about it.
What you pay attention to shapes your life, so choose deliberately.
Be intentional about what you put on your minds’ plate, and don’t just rely on the internet algorithms to feed you.
One caveat: it is easier to jump into that river and let it take us where it wants instead of deciding for yourself.
But here’s one tip for today: learn to produce before you consume every day. Or at least to balance input with the output daily.
That means start the day with your creative work instead of reacting to other people’s requests (emails, messages, notifications).
Before you head for the World Wide Web, think for a bit, meditate, journal.
Get in touch with what you think or want before others tell you what they want it to be.
If you happen to work in a creative field and start working on a project, it’s really easy to fall into the ‚ research’ trap. You start looking up some information, and then, in the hyperlinked world, your research takes you further and further away from where you wanted to be. New things keep popping up, and we chase them. Learning to distinguish the relevant pieces from the irrelevant is critical.
THE DECISION FATIGUE INCREASES DISTRACTION
Another reason why we may want to distract ourselves is decision fatigue. This thing is very real for many of us.
Suppose we need to decide all day long, even about unimportant stuff (this coffee or that coffee, this article or that article, this message or that message, this phone or that phone, etc.). In that case, we may not have much left in us for the really important decision in our life. What is it that we really want?
The irony is that we spend a lot of mental energy trying to choose the best things that are not very important in the grand scheme of things or those that can be easily changed even if you chose poorly.
So whenever you can, simplify. It’s good to have a choice, but it’s good to be smart about choosing to simplify.
Think about having a uniform of sorts, so you don’t have to struggle with what to wear; prep some meals ahead, have your favorite pen and ditch the rest; learn to put all thoughts and ideas in one place – a journal (a bullet journal) or an app, etc.
SHAPING YOUR ENVIRONMENT
More often than not, we crave something not because we really wanted it or needed it, but only because it was out there and we saw it.
Companies know it when they design their products, especially in today’s tech products. All the pings, notifications, newsletters, and updates are geared toward getting our attention and holding it. Chances are, if you see something, you will want it.
We’re becoming more reactive, and the modern world makes it very easy for us to remove all the friction possible to get what we ‚want’ before we have a chance to think about it and cool off.
We fall victim to convenience: your credit card details are already saved in the online store, and your shopping cart is one click away from materializing on your doorstep. No money? No problem. You’ll pay later, in installments so small, you can barely notice in your monthly credit card statement. Until the sum up, of course, and a 1000$ is gone before you know it.
9 times out of 10, when I feel like eating something is because I saw it in front of me, not because I really craved it!
‚All people need to feel a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. If kids don’t get their needs met in the real world, they look to fulfill them online.’
Eyal, Nir. Indistractable (p. 199). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
But before you get too distracted, try to pause for a second and reflect on why you want to do what you are about to do.
The writer’s cabin at your desk
There’s a reason why many writers decide to get away from society and look for a refuge in a remote space.
But to achieve anything substantial in life, we all need to think of creating our mental writer’s cabin daily; A simple mind sanctuary where we are not interrupted by others and practice being indistractable on our own.
Try creating a clean, simple space where nothing can hijack your attention.
If you need a quick break, it’s safer to stare at plants (or a fish tank).
Plants are great for reducing stress, help calm you down, reconnect with the natural world for a short mental break without drawing your attention too far away from what you need to do.
Your mind and eyes can rest, but it’s unlikely to stare at your plants for hours – something that can be quickly done when you have a 10-minute social media break and find yourself still scrolling hours later.
Create rituals to curb distraction
Having a simple starting ritual helps as well to not only start but also stay focused.
I like to put my noise-canceling phones on, light a scented candle, send my phone to airplane mode, disable all notifications possible, and also set my intention – and my timer., so I can work in a clearly defined box of time.
Do I always do it? No, I don’t. But I try, and I can also see a huge difference when I do.
Help your focus
I try to schedule my focus-intensive work during the day when it’s naturally easier for me to focus. After breakfast (so no rumbling tummy), when I don’t expect anyone to interrupt me (that means I am not expecting any post deliveries or phone calls either) works best.
It’s usually between 10, and 12 am, and I know that if I am to achieve anything of substance that day, this time slot is my best shot. Everything else is a gamble.
I try to schedule my tasks depending on the focus level they require. I know that for writing (high focus required), I need to sit in the morning with minimal distractions, but for cooking or cleaning, I can schedule a time when my family is home and when I do not need to focus as much (well, at least so I don’t burn something on the stove)
TIMEBOXING -make room for what’s important.
It’s about living in alignment with your values.
Does your calendar reflect your life values?
Timeboxing is a very effective strategy to manage your time and align it with your values.
Suppose you claim you value your health or relationships in your life but make no time for exercise, a decent diet, family, and friends in your calendar. In that case, you’re either lying to yourself about what it is that is important for you, or you live a misaligned life.
I encourage you to spend some time going over the most essential things in your life and finding space for them in your calendar. Because otherwise, they’ll likely be fed the scraps from your timetable.
STAYING THE COURSE
I believe managing our attention is a crucial skill in the modern world. It’s about deciding what to pay attention to but also what to purposefully ignore.
I’m not saying we can never have fun, even if it’s relatively mindless scrolling our feeds. I would simply like you to take charge and plan your distractions and time-box them in your schedule.
Are you done doing your real, meaningful work? Great! You can now get into the world of pleasant distraction.
By all means, staying the course is NOT easy. And for some, more reactive people, it’s even more challenging.
But with a little bit of practice, it will become easier and more natural for you.
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