In my work I have come to recognize that many of us grapple with different types of inner saboteurs (I identify five of these; you can listen to me describe them here). Many of us struggle with one of these in particular: the Distractionist, and even if this isn’t your main saboteur, chances are it’s still taking up space in your psyche.
If you are toggling back and forth between open tabs while you read this, you are in the company of this disempowering saboteur…..
If you decided you absolutely had to dust your living room before settling down into the day’s work–or if you made a start on your work and interrupted yourself to tend to the laundry, the dishes, to answering emails that could have waited–you are, again, letting the Distractionist loose to plunder its way through your day. (Guess what? Those little email “pings” are pleasure-hits that feed the powers of the Distractionist!)
Distraction comes with two attendant patterns: the first is procrastination, which almost all of us are guilty of at one time or another. Procrastination feels like a failing, but it is important to remember that it’s a problem–not of time management–but of mood management. The other manifestation of the Distractionist lies in multitasking. Now, in our too-busy world, multitasking is often seen as necessary (job descriptions frequently cite the ability to multitask as the first quality their ideal candidate possesses) and, as with the Protestant work ethic, is a sign of a certain kind of virtue.
But in truth, multitasking, even as it feeds the Distractionist, reduces your brain’s functionality, eroding your brain cells’ resilience levels and straining its ability to recover from stress.Attention suffers; your ability to focus for any meaningful length of time is splintered. (And if you are someone who is trying to bring a creative project into the world, you know that working while in the company of the Distractionist delays its completion, at best, and at worst, slays the project altogether.)
But there are ways to begin to root the Distractionist out. In a podcast clip related to the link above, I give you a physical exercise to visualize removing it (or any of the other saboteurs) from your body. After that, it can help to think about what the payoff is–for distraction, for procrastination, for any of the related behaviors that are deflecting your attention from what ought to be a priority for you. Often, it’s when we are faced with something difficult that we default to something easy (so we play a video game for awhile instead of completing a pressing piece of paperwork). It’s always easier to goof off than to not goof off. But to the extent that who and what we are in the world depends on our actions, our deeds in the world, whatever keeps you from accomplishment is also keeping you from actualization of your full true self.
There is no short-term payoff that is worth that.
The design of the internet (and the ubiquity of social media, one of the biggest distractions of them all) has altered the way our brains work, to a greater or lesser extent, so some retraining of our thoughts and work habits is another step toward getting rid of the Distractionist.
The development of your own daily practice, as I’ve written about in previous blogs, is tremendously helpful here: by holding space for it, by making a commitment to your daily practice, by showing up for it every day, you create a sort of ritual that imprints itself and shows you that yes, you can focus on this one thing to the exclusion of all other things, for this moment. And if you can focus there, you can bring that focus elsewhere.
Eventually you find that you can push past the distracted mind, push past the ego, and with the Distractionist finally silenced, experience something like true freedom.
Want to know more? For the complete podcast on Saboteurs, check this out.