It doesn’t come as a surprise that we have regressively transitioned from human beings to distracted beings. We are distracted while we work, eat, talk, walk, play, sleep, and pretty sure most of us are distracted while reading this article as well. Hell, even I am prey to distractions, in fact, I just got distracted a minute back, looking at a video to learn how to trim videos online, and that’s when I should be focusing on writing the article ‘how to avoid distractions’. Perfect!
Tell me, how often do you get distracted, and for how long? Do you even realize that you get distracted at times? Seriously, are you all even aware of the time when instead of focusing on whatever it is you are doing, your head is wandering and rambling about your sister’s wedding, or your ex-bf’s birthday bash that you weren’t invited in, or in reading my blog or just any of the 112 other distractions out there?
While being distracted when you should be working is bad enough, not being aware of your own mental state and letting it drift into the wilderness on its own is just catastrophic. The fact that a human’s average attention span has gone down below that of a goldfish’s attention span is a warning siren that we all should heed.
It’s about time we learn how to avoid distractions and focus on things that really matter or else be ready to pay a humongous price to life itself which will only accept currency in the form of regret, lament, and sorrow. The choice is yours to make.
Why do we get Distracted?
We start doing something, but sooner than later we find ourselves down the rabbit hole, totally distracted, and ultimately call it quits when we see ourselves failing in it miserably. So, now the real question is why do we drop doing something? We first gotta figure this out, and only then can we wrap our heads around how to avoid distractions and stay consistent in our work.
So, what generally happens is that we set a goal, let’s say, to go for a walk in the morning, or to study for 5hrs a day every day, and at the slightest hint of not being able to keep up with it at a 100% success rate, we start losing motivation. And when we lose enough of it, it almost becomes next to impossible for us to bounce back and get back on track. Essentially, if you look at it closely, we ourselves are responsible for our downhill journey in a way.
Perhaps it’s our basic mind structure or just the way our DNAs have been configured that we tend to look at the shortcomings and the loopholes, all the time.
If you work hard enough, you might feel that you are missing out on life, fun, and all the enjoyment; if you don’t work hard enough, you feel guilty for indulging in too much peer pressure and not taking your life seriously and simply wasting it for nothing; if you follow your complete plan successfully you perceive that maybe you are not stepping up your game and it’s merely too simple of a plan to follow; if you are not able to follow your plan, you simply come to the conclusion that you are a worthless loser who can’t do anything meaningful in life.
Really guys, we humans can be pretentious douchebags at times! And it ought to change if we want to avoid distractions in life and be free from the clutches of this devil to stay consistent in whatever it is we are doing. It’s because of this very flawed structure that we give so much space to distractions to let them creep their way into our humble homes.
Our inability to focus on our job fuels distraction which in turn makes us even more incompetent at what we do and the loop keeps on repeating itself pushing us further down the bottomless pit of darkness and sorrow.
To extend the previous examples only, instead of whining about how you couldn’t study for 5hrs every day, celebrate the fact that you at least studied for an hour a day for 4 straight days. Instead of berating yourself for not going for a walk every day, feel proud of the fact that you at least took the first step and went for 3 days in a row.
Focusing on what you did, instead of criticizing yourself for what you didn’t or couldn’t do, will at least keep you from hating yourself and counting yourself short every goddamn time. When we focus on our faults for rather too long, we are weakening our own position and making us more vulnerable and susceptible to distractions. Not the ideal way to go with, if you are looking to avoid distractions in the first place.
Take it this way. While acknowledging your mistakes to not make them again or to learn from them is all well and good; undermining your ability, becoming skeptical about your potentials, and lambasting your own self for your setbacks or failures is in no way gonna help you in the long run. By doing this, you are just empowering the distractions to let them win you over and to get brutally entangled in the web they have spun for you.
Take great pride in even the smallest of your achievements and successes, no matter how trivial or petty they may seem to you. Don’t get lost in your own enormous goal and ultimately become a victim of your grandeur expectations. Just because you couldn’t do what you thought you should do, doesn’t mean it was all for nothing. This is the incorrect and incomplete way of looking at the game of life. It’s always something. It’s never nothing. Something is truly and quintessentially a whole lot better than nothing.
Look at it this way. Previously you weren’t studying at all and were totally a victim of the endless distractions. You never even get out of your bed and were a hardcore couch potato. At least what you achieved now is a massive step up from your old self. Even if it doesn’t match your insatiable hunger, and even if you still get distracted at times, look at where you came from, it’s a bazillion times better than where you started from.
You went from 0hr to 1hr/day studying, from 0km to a couple of km a week, from insanely and madly distracted to mildly and gingerly distracted.
That’s the correct and logical way of looking at whatever you do. You can apply it in every aspect of your life. This way, you won’t call it quits straightaway. Otherwise what people would normally do is they would set a larger-than-life goal, fail miserably in accomplishing it, and give up the whole thing just like that, just because they couldn’t meet their insane demands.
The Science Behind Celebrating Your Achievements
In case you were wondering why I earlier asked you to celebrate even the tiniest of accomplishments, well it’s because of the simple fact that our mind loves the sensation of pleasure, feeling happy and satisfied. When you associate your success with that of attaining pleasure, the mind will automatically start paving the way to somehow experience that ‘feel-good’ sensation again and again.
It’s kind of a reward mechanism you are setting up for your thirsty mind. This is perhaps the best way to avoid distractions: set up your own incentive system, for the good habits, that are lucrative enough for your brain to automatically drop the wasteful distractions because it knows it’s gonna get those positive candies in the form of hormones after completing those goals.
Our human bodies excrete certain hormones that help promote all the positive feelings, happiness, and pleasures, in turn regulating our moods. Whenever you smile, laugh, or achieve something the whole chemical process in the brain is set into action.
We are a sucker for these hormones which makes us want more of the same or even better experience again and again and again. Now, don’t think that there is some magical remote controller for all these involuntary actions, using which you can just produce an excess of these hormones at your disposal and rejoice; you can’t.
Come to think of it, all the major distractions we have in our lives, are actually all leveraging these very hormones only to get us hooked. I mean, if we aren’t thrilled or feel ecstatic while indulging in those distractions, we won’t be distracted in the first place, right? It’s about time we leverage these hormones for our own benefits to avoid these distractions and stay focused on our lives.
The Mechanism to Avoiding Distractions, For Good
Now, let’s see what you need to do, in order to exploit these hormones. Earlier, whatever action you took, be it walking for 3 days a week instead of 7, or studying for an hour a day instead of 4; saying to yourself that “Oh, I am such a pathetic loser who can’t do anything or achieve anything” is gonna trigger all the bad and stressful hormones which is gonna make you even less motivated to do these activities the next time.
And since your body produced these negative and “not so feel-good type” hormones, you will immediately look for ways to balance this anomaly and that’s where all the distractions will come to your supposed *rescue* and you will straightaway fall for their trap because of the situations you created in the first place.
And because of you badmouthing, criticizing, and wallowing over your failures, you won’t even take the action again since you are paranoid that you might not succeed and you might have to go through all those bleak hormones all over again.
We need to do the exact opposite if we wanna avoid distractions in our life and stay consistent with our good habits.
You gotta say to yourself, “I did an amazing job by getting started with my goal”, “I already am successful as I took the first step in achieving my destination”, “I was sitting idle on my ass for the past 3 years, and now look at me, shining and glowing like anything”, “If I can go for 3 days in a week, I can very well go for 7 days too” and so on. This will consequently trigger the positive and feel-good hormones and a sense of thrill will encompass your whole body as you sincerely and honestly apply it in your day-to-day life.
Comparing Yourself With Others is the Easiest way to Get Distracted
You don’t have to look at the person who’s going for 7 days straight for the last 5 years, or at someone who’s studying for 5hrs a day since high school. You will get discouraged pretty easily going this path, and the whole unattractive cycle of unwanted hormones will begin. Instead, think about the fact that even those people must have started from the very point where you are today.
If you want to compare, then either compare with your old self only or you can compare with the millions of people who don’t even have the willpower to get started in the first place. It’s all relative, and the goal is to not let yourself down in any way because then it’s game over already. Now, this doesn’t mean that you become complicit for the rest of your lives or make yourself feel good simply by citing others’ failures and incompetence. The sole aim of this activity is to not underestimate or undermine yourself.
No matter how small of an action you take, if you are feeling inspired by it then everything else will automatically follow. Even if that positive change is subatomic, pat yourself on the back so hard that even you won’t be able to wait to feel that kind of sensation again.
Now, once you get a hang of that kind of positive hormone that is gonna rock your body, your system is gonna ask for more of such experiences. And this in itself will become your biggest inspiration to keep up with the task. You wouldn’t even realize how subtly and intelligently you will avoid distractions and eliminate them once and for all because now your job/work or whatever you aimed to do has become your source of delight and satisfaction.
All we have to do is to create a reward-based feedback loop for the good and meaningful activities in our lives, then that will be a big blow for all the distractions out there.
A Real-Life Example of Avoiding Distractions
Let me give you another example. Say you are addicted to smartphones, and you easily waste north of 5hrs a day using your smartphone. You said enough was enough and decided to reduce your daily limit to 1hr of usage. But as we know in life, poo-poo happens, and things rarely go according to what you anticipated. So, instead of using 1hr, you tried a lot but only got it down to 4hr a day. Now, this leaves you with two choices.
One is to again condemn your inability to avoid distractions and label yourself as a loser. This will make you even more aggressively use your smartphone and now instead of 4hr, you might go back to 5hr or even more. One is likely to throw all this advice down the sewer and is gonna exacerbate the situation going this path. You won’t even bother to try it again because you have made yourself perfectly clear that you just don’t have what it takes to tackle such problems and improve your life.
But on the other hand, if you applaud your efforts and acknowledge your progress, then even 1hr less is pretty big progress for sure, then what do you think is gonna happen?
You are gonna want more of those pleasing and heartening hormones that you felt when you said all those nice and heartening things about your achievement. And well, in order to feel that way again, you are gonna try harder than before to make your dream a reality. It’s essentially gonna spiral into making yourself a better human devoid of any distractions. In a nutshell:
Tiny results->Big applause->feel good->more energy->even better results->bigger applause->feel even better->repeat
Now, exactly how big can you make that tiny achievement look is up to you. The bigger you perceive it to be, the more powerful and focussed you are likely to become to perform even better than before the next time.
How do I personally Avoid Distractions?
To tell you what I do, I have set my daily targets to write just over 100 words. That’s right, merely a hundred. But in my writing span of 7 months, give or take 210 days, I have written just over 150k words. That gives an average of 715 words on a daily basis. And this is when I didn’t write on a daily basis, so out of those 210 days, I may have written for maybe 180 days. So, essentially I achieved more than 8 times my goal. Now why I was able to do this has got a lot to do with the way I look at myself.
I never set those crazy-ass back-breaking goals of writing 3-4k words a day. Because I very well knew that if I set such magnanimous goals, then it was gonna be very likely that I might soon get discouraged on seeing myself not being able to accomplish them and would get distracted pretty easily.
Now that I only have a target of 100 words, I at least surpass it by a magnitude of 10 (approx) pretty easily, as I feel pretty good watching myself fulfilling my expectations. And consequently, I feel all the more inspired to perform even better than yesterday without having to face any consequences in case I couldn’t, since my goal was still a hundred words only at the end of the day.
I can also clearly see the obvious flaw of this that you guys must also be thinking about. Knowing that since our childhood we have been told to create big goals, it might be a tad weird to follow what I am saying. Well, of course, you don’t have to. The aim is to do whatever lets you sleep at night. For me, it works pretty well.
Every word I write after the 100th word, every minute I spend after formally achieving my task on paper, every thought that I put down in writing—they all essentially keep on reminding me how awesome and amazing I am. It makes me someone who is so brilliant and inspired that he doesn’t stop even after dashing past his goal.
And because I make myself feel this way, I automatically create a million more reasons to get going instead of just stopping after a hundred words. Moreover, it lets you sleep like a baby at night when you know that you had a fulfilling day. I am achieving more than I have to every single day, and the overwhelming feeling of victory that I go through on a daily basis is what drives me to stay focused and avoid distractions.
Basically, this reward cum positive sensations become the driving force of my endeavors. And the only way to get this reward is to again, repeat the whole cycle, aka do more than required. The worst-case scenario I go through is that sometimes I don’t get this reward as for whatever reasons I couldn’t surge past my goal, but nevertheless at the back of my mind I am not mad because I still achieved my official goal. That’s something.
Now, I am not saying that this might work for everybody, maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I will let you be the judge of that, but all I am saying is that no matter what path you choose, just don’t cut your legs by making yourself feel ashamed and counting yourself short in any way.
The journey of you as an achiever starts with you acknowledging your own efforts and endeavors, no matter how minuscule or nanoscopic it may seem. If looked at from the perspective of someone else, it might be humongous.
Link your tiniest of achievements with the biggest of celebrations and then it will become a habit of yours. This will transform you into a star achiever that the whole world will vouch for. Doing all the right things all the time, and expecting that you will never get distracted is a funny way of living.
Everyone gets distracted, after all, we are only human. Get it through your head, you are not a robot who’s gonna function according to a set algorithm or a formula and will never deviate from your trajectory. You are gonna be distracted not once but hundreds of thousands of times. And that’s okay.
If you think all the successful people in life never got distracted then you are out of your mind. They do get distracted a thousand times, fail a million times, and make mistakes a bazillion times, just like we people do. The only difference being, they know the importance of doing the right thing and prioritize that over anything else. So, they may fall a billion times but they will know how to stand up a billion and one times.
The human mind gets bored pretty easily. So, as you start celebrating your small achievements your mind will spontaneously push to aim and act bigger than before to get an even more powerful kick, and this will spiral into something so big that would be totally unimaginable and inexpressible. Not doing anything and sitting idle and getting distracted will make you sick if you sincerely make this a habit of yours.