Distraction is everywhere. It’s at work, at home, on the street, at the grocery store, on your computer, at your parents’ house, in your car, at the dentist’s office, on product packaging, and even in your own mind.
Most people would probably admit that they know just how distracting the world truly is nowadays, but I’d say a good chunk of them aren’t being mindful enough about it. Instead, they allow their distracted behaviour to develop into impulsive, subconscious habits, using bad excuses like “I’m too busy” or “There’s never enough time in the day” as a way to justify why nothing important ever gets done.
You probably already know that you should be watching less TV, putting your smartphone away more often, and trying to finish one thing before abandoning it half-finished and moving on to something else. You probably don’t do it because you’re not fully aware of just how much time these subconsciously-driven, distracting habits are sucking out of your life, hijacking your brain, and making it much more difficult (or even impossible) for you to make any real progress at all.
If you’re ready to snap out of it, then keep reading. Some of these harsh but true facts may help you get a grip on what’s most important to you and realize that mindless, short-term pleasure is often much less rewarding than a meaningful, long-term journey.
Television: The average American adult watches more than 4 hours a day, or 9 full years in a lifetime.
According to A.C. Nielsen Co., Americans have graduated to wasting almost a full decade of their lives in front of their television sets, and that doesn’t even count time needed for sleep. That’s a full, straight period of distraction in a wakeful state. It’s hard to believe that so many people don’t realize they’re throwing away nearly a decade or more of their lives for their cable boxes, DVRs, and Netflix subscriptions rather than spending more time with their families or working toward a dream they might have.
Unhooking yourself isn’t easy, and it may take a unique approach depending on your personal situation. Some people have successfully kicked their bad TV habits by scaling back slowly by an hour or so at a time, while others have just canceled their cable and streaming subscriptions altogether. Whatever you choose, be sure to commit to it.
Smartphones: The average smartphone owner spends almost 3 hours a day glued to their device, or the equivalent of nearly one whole day every week.
A 2017 report from comScore revealed that the average American adult spends 2 hours and 51 minutes a day on their smartphone. Another report from MediaKix says we spend almost two-thirds of that time (1 hour and 56 minutes) on top social apps like YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.
Smartphones haven’t been around for very long, yet people struggle so much these days to look away from their screens, even just for a moment. If you are one of those people who’re finding it increasingly difficult to live without the cheap stimulation of their smartphone, you need to start making it harder for yourself to check-in to your digital world by uninstalling or hiding apps, signing out of social networks or email, and committing to unplugging more often. Above all, work on being more conscious of how and why you’re using your device.
Multitasking: Research has shown that the brain doesn’t have the capacity to focus on two or more tasks at once.
You’re always better off focusing on one task at a time rather than splitting your mental power into multiple parts, doing multiple things at once; no matter how good of a multitasker you think you are. A Stanford University study found that participants’ attention spans suffered when they had various sources of electronic information coming at them. They couldn’t retain information very well, they had a hard time switching from task to task, and they took longer to complete them.
Think of it as the mental equivalent of trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time – easy to do separately, but noticeably harder to do together. If you want proof that multitasking really is holding you back, try giving your full attention and energy to completing one thing, and time it. Compare your time and performance with how long and how successfully it takes you to complete the same thing or something similar while multitasking.
Physical clutter: A study found that excess objects in a person’s environment competes for their attention and increases stress.
Neuroscientists from Princeton University found that participants of a study who were placed in an unorganized environment had much more trouble focusing and processing information than those placed in an organized environment. As if that weren’t bad enough, the people whose senses and emotions were overwhelmed by the presence of more physical stuff experienced a spike in stress hormones.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that your environment directly affects how you feel. That doesn’t mean you have to throw all your belongings away and become a minimalist, but if you’ve got stacks of papers, piles of clothing, boxes of food, and loads of dusty old junk cluttering up your home or workplace, and it’s affecting you mentally and emotionally, then it’s time to get rid of it.
Popular music: In a study where people listened to lyrical music while they worked, reading comprehension and information processing suffered.
Despite how great your favourite Top 40 songs might make you feel, numerous studies have shown that listening to music with lyrics creates a multitasking effect. Similar to the background noise you’re faced with while trying to work in front of the television or around other people having a conversation, the lyrics in popular music draw your focus away from any task that might require your full attention.
Lucky for you, there’s no need to turn the radio off or shut down iTunes and work in complete silence. It turns out that classical or ambient music played at a medium volume can actually help boost creativity and performance.
The brutal truth about distraction…
Nobody’s life is ever going to be 100% distraction-free. Besides, we all need a little distraction to help us relax and recharge anyway. But since distracting things like TV, digital junk, multiple tasks, physical clutter, and some music bombards your mind with information, you have less mental clarity to focus on more important things in your life. The more you give in, the more it becomes a habit that slowly chips away at your ability to stay disciplined.
The people who are able to be honest with themselves about what’s distracting them usually realize that the answers to problems like “being too busy” and “never having enough time” really boil down to poor prioritization and an inner refusal to take responsibility for their actions.
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day to work with, and it’s up to the individual to conjure up the self-discipline needed filter out all the useless junk from everyday life, prioritize important goals, develop a schedule, stick to it, and generally work persistently to avoid falling back down the rabbit hole of distraction.
- TV takes up over four hours of an average person’s a day while smartphone use takes up over three hours of an average person’s day, suggesting that we need to become much more mindful of how and why we’re giving so much of our time to such futile stimulation.
- Multitasking reduces the quality of task performance and uses up more time while physical clutter competes for our attention and causes stress, proving that the fewer things our brains have to pay attention to, the more focused and efficient we’re able to become.
- The more you give in to distracting habits, the more they erode your willpower and the harder they are to reverse, which is why it’s so important to limit your time with distracting sources and keep practicing to build up strong discipline.
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- Why we’re so bad at sticking to good habits (and what to do about it) - March 19, 2016