One of the biggest challenges you face to making progress in your
life, or achieving any measure of success, is the Demon of
Distraction. It truly is a demon because it seems to feed upon
us, and gets ever larger and more powerful the more time we
sacrifice to it.
The sources of distraction are growing daily. TV, internet,
email, SMS, mobile phones, news events, computer games, and much
more. In fact, with so much to do and respond to, it’s a wonder
we get anything worthwhile done at all.
A case in point is that my meditation sessions are deteriorating
somewhat of late. The mind is always a thing to be tamed, and its
fickleness is most evident when you try to meditate. However,
recently I find that there is an increasing tendency to be
distracted. My mind is endlessly multi-tasking; trying to figure
out what it should do for the day, how it should react to
such-and-such a situation, and so on. Maybe you are finding the
The problem is that the sources of distraction are ever growing,
and we seem to do nothing to counteract it in our daily lives,
i.e. to take control of what we allow into our attention and how
we respond to it. Hence, after a while, we start to experience
overwhelm at the ever-growing list that demands our attention.
For example, email is a big source of distraction. Spam is bad
enough. But more importantly, there are all those people to
answer, the latest offers to check out, and more. Before you know
it, you have trained yourself to be an email addict, forever
checking your inbox to see what new messages have arrived in the
minutes since you last checked. Naturally, this takes a continual
toll on your concentration.
If you have a TV handy when you are eating, do you switch it on
when you are eating? Of course, while skimming one program, you
also have to flick around the channels to see if you are missing
anything else better. And finally, when it gets to the top of the
hour, you need to head over to the news channel to see what is
going on in the world. The truth is, you have already done this
several times during the day, and not THAT much extra has really
happened in the last few hours. But that does not seem to bother
you. Before you know it, you’re addicted to checking the news.
What about cell phones? So much to do! Games to play. Email/SMS
to check. Calls to make or respond to. Gosh! It’s a world all to
The problem is that, without our being aware of it, sources of
distraction are steadily multiplying in the world. If you think
that nothing is changing, you are in danger of being caught up in
increased distraction without even being aware of it.
In any case, the brain is easily distracted. It takes effort to
keep it on course towards any goal or desired outcome.
Distraction only knocks you off course. You may think you are
doing very well by handling so many things simultaneously, but
you really are not. The truth is, you are setting yourself up for
achieving very little, and taking a long time to go about it!
As you allow distractions to fill your time, your mental
discipline slackens. Before you know it, you are wasting vast
amounts of time, while persuading yourself that it was time well
spent! In corporate culture, this can manifest itself as extended
chats around the coffee machine, or popping around to a colleague
for a blatant chat, or else asking something work-related
initially which soon degenerates into a general chat at the first
Online, it can be surfing around, allowing your mind to take you
wherever it will. Maybe you go online to check out a new book at
Amazon. Before you know it, it occurs to you to see if the DVDs
of your favorite TV series are out yet. You type the keywords in.
Yes, it’s there. You read some reviews. One of the writers
mentions some scandal involving one of the show participants. You
head over to Google to check it out. The results page comes up
and you click on a site. While waiting for it, you see an
interesting ad on the right-hand side of the page,and decide to
check that out. Oh, and then you remember to check your email as
well. You see one from a friend of yours. You reply to those
while the two pages are still loading. When you click “Send”,
some more emails come in requiring your attention. Meanwhile
those two web pages have loaded and await. And so on…
That is how you can easily spend several hours at your computer,
and yet the actual amount of real work you do is very little. You
come away tired and drained, with a false feeling of
satisfaction, feeling like you have been very busy. Really
though, you have done very little of any lasting value.
Even if you don’t identify with any of the above examples, you
nevertheless DO have your own personal version of this, and you
know what it is.
So how do you begin to make sense of all this? Realize what the
sources of distraction are in your life and become conscious of
what they do to you, i.e. how they are leading you off course.
For many people, this may prove to be a great revelation, both in
terms of how many such sources there are, and how low is the
ability of their minds to concentrate upon a given task without
feeling the need to multi-task something else.
Another way is to make out a table of your waking hours and log
in it, on a 15-minute basis, everything you do during the day.
Rigorous honesty is required. Keep this up for several days and
the results will probably be quite eye-opening. You will be
amazed as to how little you actually get done!
Once you have awareness of the sources of distraction, take steps
to get the matter under control. If email is an issue for you,
decide to only check your email twice a day – once in the morning
and once in the evening – and handle responses at those times
only. You may wish to consider unsubscribing yourself from a
bunch of ezines. Maybe you find that they serve no real useful
purpose. Instead, you spend too much time reading them to the
detriment of advancing your progress in your desired direction.
Are you checking the TV news too often? Become aware of this
addiction and get it handled.
So much of the problem with distraction is to do with out own
compulsive nature. Between stimulus and response, there is always
a choice to be made. However, the problem is that when we always
make the same choice over and over, before long it ceases to be a
choice. Soon it becomes automatic behavior – conditioning.
This is often what is really going on. You see the time, i.e.
that it is nearly top of the hour, and you automatically switch
the TV on and flick to the news. You’re working at your PC and
you feel a moment of restlessness So you automatically go over to
check you email. And so on. Automatic responses, where there used
to be a choice.
The trick to winning against the demon of distraction is to win
back the power of choice. This applies not only to individual
situations such as those just named, but also to choosing what
you will pay attention to in the first place.
Do you really need to watch that much TV? Do you really need a
cellphone in the first place (some of the wealthiest people in
business refuse to have one, whilst seemingly every teenager is a
proud owner. What does THAT tell you?)? Do you really have to
check your email so much?
Assess what real value you are receiving from your various
personal distraction sources. You may find that you can eliminate
them and not suffer any great loss at all. Some people do just
fine without a mobile phone. Believe it or not, the whole world
once functioned that way. Yes, really! There are people still
alive today who remember that world. Ask them sometime, if you
don’t believe it.
You would do well to also develop your powers of concentration.
This can be done very well through meditation. In daily life, it
can also be done by focusing on ONE major task at a time, and not
beginning anything else until that one task is finished. This is
a key secret behind some of the most successful people in the
world, whether it be in business, the arts, or wherever. It’s
hard to do lots of things simultaneously all by yourself. The
mind experiences overwhelm. If you are caught with a lot of tasks
in your work life, see how many you can delegate and outsource to
other people. If you cannot, then try to complete each task in
order of importance.
The demon of distraction CAN be overcome, but it takes daily
vigilance and continual personal awareness. Be vigilant against
the continually changing forms of distraction that society
invents and throws at you. Be aware of your own personal universe
and how you react to a distraction stimulus. If someone lobs a
ball at you, you don’t HAVE to catch it, you know.
You always have a choice. Between stimulus and response, there is
always the moment of choice. Develop that awareness through
meditation, and also through being aware of the continual threat
of distraction as you go about your daily life.
Copyright Asoka Selvarajah 2005. All Rights Reserved.
You have permission to reproduce this article in your ezine, website or offline publication as long as you do so in its entirety, and include both the copyright notice and the resource box at the bottom.