The late former prime minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, who is remembered for successfully leading the country through World War Two and was famous for refusing to surrender, once cautioned that “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”
The Turkish writer, Mehmet Murat ildan, on his part has observed that “On the road to your target, you see other roads to other targets.”
After last week’s column on the fear of rejection, readers’ responses have asked for comments on the equally disabling challenge of dealing with distractions. Without a doubt, distractions or diversions shift and move the mind from what is productive and meaningful. When the mind focuses on a past long gone or a future that remains uncertain, one loses the full value of the present.
Once more, statistics point to a sobering picture: when attention is completely distracted, it can take up to more than 20 minutes to refocus. Similarly, 80% of distractions or interrupted thoughts are described as unimportant.
Amidst the crazy demands of modern life, people have now turned to, and actively support, the growing field of work-life mentors. Rather than time management, people’s focus is shifted to attention management. Journalist Tim Herrera writes that “Attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places, and at the right moment. Prioritise the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything else takes.”
When distraction strikes, the answer lies in finding one’s way back to reality. Unless the wandering mind is disciplined and put on a leash, the things which one really needs to do easily fall victim to thoughts which subtract from the value of the tasks at hand.
Anxiety, loneliness, uncertainty, feelings of insecurity, fatigue and boredom are some of the triggers of distraction. Experts say giving in to distraction is similar to entertaining something that is against one’s better judgement.
Daniel Wegner describes the intrusive thoughts as “the ironic monitoring process,” during which the brain “actually searches for whatever thought or emotion a person is trying to suppress.”
Author and researcher Nir Eyal argues that “becoming indistractable is not some mysterious formula. After all, although distractions aren’t necessarily your fault, managing them is your responsibility.”
It has been repeatedly argued that, since clearly defined goals with defined desired outcomes are of paramount importance, one’s attitude towards distractions is thus “a better predictor of success than the intelligent quotient (IQ).”
Mindfulness thus becomes a powerful weapon against a mind which is wandering from a given task. The Mayo Clinic says that “being mindful means you can maintain moment-to-moment awareness of where you are and what you are doing.
By being mindful and recognising when your attention starts to drift, you can quickly bring your focus back to where it needs to be.”
Kendra Cherry adds that, “The ability to concentrate on something in your environment and direct mental effort toward it, is critical for learning new things, achieving goals and performing well across a wide variety of situations...your ability to focus can mean the difference between success and failure.”
Interestingly, staying focused may, from time to time, require a carefully calibrated mix of anxiety and worry.
It is my submission that establishing the correct amounts will give a person more of traction – and less distraction – thus giving purpose to the sometimes demanding task of getting out of bed and embracing a new day.