How to Break the Cycle of Distractions

If you’re going to tackle the besetting problem of distractions, then you have to eliminate the causes.

Treating the symptoms will have no effect.

It might mitigate the problems temporarily, but it will not make them go away.

 

There are many reasons – causes, if you prefer – for how and why you’re distracted.

Everyone is different.

Things that distract you may not distract me, and vice versa.

 

One cause, however, which I think is common to all of us is boredom.

Boredom is person-specific.

That means that what bores you may not bore me, and that things which bore me may not bore you.

 

Let’s look at this from the opposite viewpoint.

What’s the opposite of boredom?

It’s stimulation, right?

When you’re mind is active, it’s because it’s being stimulated by what you see, hear, taste, or touch.

And with these sensations also comes emotion.

So if the experience is gratifying, then you’ll want to do it again and again.

And to help you out, some “feel-good” hormone is released in your brain.

This is partly how addictions are formed.

Addictions are the extreme form of habits.

 

The Internet offers constant stimulation.

That’s why it’s so easy for hours to pass just by clicking one link after another.

When you’re totally engaged in your experience on the Web, then you lose track of time.

 

The Internet also does something else.

It provides variety.

It’s been said that “Variety is the spice of life.”

If there was hardly anything to look at or listen to on the Web, then you’d quickly get bored and move onto something else.

If you missed the ramifications of that last sentence, then go back and read it again.

 

Now pay attention.

Boredom can be overcome by becoming bored with it.

Did you get that?

When you become sufficiently bored with being bored, then you’ll do something about it.

But as long as you allow yourself to experience a variety of distractions, this habit will be harder to break.

 

When your routine gets to be more and more boring, the length of time that it takes to go through each cycle becomes shorter and shorter.

And what happens is that when it gets short enough that you can not only predict the outcome, but you also feel the results before you even start, then something happens.

It stops being a distraction.

That’s because the novelty has worn off.

There’s nothing new to be seen in your cycle of distractions.

You know there’s nothing new because it has been more or less the same for some period of time. (Days or weeks. It will be different for everyone.)

And when you know in your heart that you will be bored by what has distracted you, then you’ll stop.

This is a rare opportunity for productive change.

 

Let’s think of an example.

Suppose that you are a news junkie.

In the morning, you look at all of the main news websites, not just in the US, but also in Europe, the Middle and Far East.

If it’s in English, then you read it.

In the morning, you spend a couple of hours doing this.

In the evening, you might spend four, five, or even more hours trolling through all the news websites.

Over time, you discover that the content on these websites doesn’t change much from one day to the next.

You find stories that are years old; things that you’d forgotten about, but had read way back when.

You also discover that except for the relatively unimportant local news, nearly all of them report more or less the same thing.

Pretty soon you find that there is no such thing as news; that instead, it’s all old.

It’s just repackaged and re-presented as new.

Even television news begins to look like one big drama or soap opera.

Eventually, it becomes so boring that you stop watching it on television.

And not long after that, you lose interest in the news websites.

At this point, you have a golden opportunity.

If you simply spend your time creating a new routine that’s equally distracting, then you’ll sabotage yourself; but if you simply drop that cycle of distractions and begin with the tasks you should have been doing all along, you’ll suddenly feel a giant leap forward.

That sudden progress may be enough to propel you out of the boredom funk and into the productive life that you’ve been telling yourself that you wanted.

And the thing is that this time, you won’t feel as though you’re missing out on anything.

 

Something else will happen, too.

If you should happen to see some “news” a few days or weeks later, even though the stories may be somewhat unfamiliar, they will still seem to be boring.

Why?

Because you will have been engaged in work that is at a much higher level.

Your mind will have become used to thinking for itself at the level of which you are capable instead of being entertained at the level of a seven or eight year old.

And you’ll notice that the end result is that you feel so much better about yourself.

 

The right kind of vacations do this.

We’re “distracted” from our routine when we pack our suitcases and live in different surroundings for a week or so.

We’re forced to use our time differently.

It could be that we’re visiting family or friends, which means that we’re spending our time with them, rather than hunched over the computer eight hours per day.

Ever notice how difficult it is to get back into your usual routine after you’ve been away?

It’s the same thing.

 

The Hack

This is counterintuitive.

You already know what doesn’t work.

Here’s a way that probably will do the trick.

Before I tell you about it, a word of caution.

This is not something you want to try with destructive behaviors. Compulsions of that kind need to be treated by a qualified clinical psychologist.

 

But, if you have found yourself repeatedly defeated by a cycle of distractions that have kept you from doing your work, then this hack may help you to break that habit.

You want to get to that place where you’re exhausting the distraction cycle that leads to boredom as quickly as possible.

That means that you want to deliberately go through it over and over and over again.

You want to make yourself sick, emotionally, though physically would be even more powerful, of going through this cycle of distractions that leads to boredom.

The sooner you can make yourself bored with the cycle of distractions, the better.

The key to making this work is to resist the temptation to add variety to the cycle of boredom.

If you do that, then you’ll simply trade one vice for another.

 

You want to get to where you can predict with some certainty the outcome of going through the cycle of distractions.

As that happens, you need to focus on the discontent that you feel.

A strong emotion that’s associated with any experience will have a powerful effect on you.

You need to feel the discontent with the distractions to the extent that when you’re tempted again by these things, and you will be, then you’ll also feel the same nauseating emotions.

And when that happens, then you won’t be distracted by those things anymore.

4 Comments

  1. Sean on July 10, 2017 at 18:34

    Great concept, Bruce.

    Here’s what works for me:

    I determine what it is that I want to zero in on, focus on, deeply.

    And that thing becomes very interesting to me (non-boring)

    So that if I do something distracting, that distracting thing is boring to me.

    Because it is taking me away from the exciting thing I am doing, creating, etc.

    And if I have to do boring work as part of my exciting project . . . I simply see the boring work as part of the exciting process . . . .

    There’s a lot of depth to how this probably works for me, but it’s the most effective thing I’ve been able to use for years and years to be able to work on projects for hours and hours on end . . .with very little classical distraction phenomenon.

    Sean

    • Bruce Hoag on July 10, 2017 at 19:59

      Thanks for your thoughts, Sean.

      Your method has value for all of us.

      I heard someone say today that you have to “be in love with the process.”

      For you, the process is exciting because it’s part of the project which is exciting.

      That’s a great way to look at it.

  2. Donald Baligad on April 29, 2018 at 18:44

    Thank you very insightful and helpful

    • Bruce Hoag on May 7, 2018 at 19:46

      Glad to hear that you found this helpful.

Leave a Comment