Distraction seems to be a growing concern in our society. How is it affecting productivity? How does it interfere with individuals engaging in their own lives? What impact does it have on interpersonal relations? Are people actually feeling lonelier even with all the digital “connections” that have been created over the last couple of decades? What is the relationship between distraction and the experience of depression and anxiety? Are there neurological explanations for the phenomena? These are the questions floating around the social science, neuropsychological, management and economic research. At the end of the day I find them frequently floating around my own brain as I listen to symptoms related to “distraction” from my clients.
I’ve been thinking that perhaps we are really talking about avoidance and calling it distraction. When we use the word “distraction” we seem to be describing an involuntary act caused by some external event in the environment around us. It does not feel like a decision or a choice has been made. The vehicles could be surfing the web, reading unending blogs all day, attending to Facebook, checking for contacts on a hook up app or something even older such as substance abuse or the World Cup. It could be something like reading our e mail or being plugged into music or conversations with someone miles away while we are walking on city streets or riding in our autos or on public transit. It seems like we have expanded the means of avoiding our everyday existence exponentially.
Distraction/avoidance can cause a high level of anxiety and/or a serious depression from the shame and guilt and frustration an individual can feel due to feeling stuck and not getting things done in their lives. It can lead to loss of employment, the destruction of relationships and a feeling that one is spinning their wheels in everyday life.
I believe we can overcome this quicksand pit by recognizing when it is happening and consciously working toward making conscious decisions about doing what we really want to do in the process of creating a life we want to lead. First we need to recognize that we are avoiding some pain or difficulty that life has thrown at us and accept the fact that it is present. We can embrace the experience and “lean into it” rather than avoid it; thereby, diminishing its impact on us. Only the demons we attempt to run away from can really keep us trapped in the enchanted world of distraction/avoidance. Second, by identifying our personal values, those beliefs that serve us by providing a compass for decision making, and moving toward manifesting those values with committed actions on a daily basis we can create the rich and satisfying life most people say they want. The application of mindfulness, being present in the moment and in a non-judgmental way, allows us to consciously take the actions we need to take to move forward in our lives. We can even make mindful decisions about when and where to use our digital tools, take a drink, a nap or even enjoy sex by limiting the impact of avoidance. We can wake up from the enchantment and come to our lives with some real energy, fully engaged in life.