Distraction: Sometimes, It’s a Good Thing
“If you don’t know where you’re going, then it doesn’t matter what path you take.” — Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I was talking to a group of people a few weeks back on the topic of productivity and distraction — specifically, we were sharing stories about what distracts us day to day.
We talked about TikTok, snackage, the news….
Netflix, Slack, YouTube…
Memes, video games, cats…
So many things!
I have indeed succumbed to all of the above during what were supposed to be focused hours, and I have also felt frustration and exhaustion trying to resist them in the name of getting shit done. In fact, for much of my life, I was pretty hard core about optimizing my life and maximizing productivity — a pretty anti-distraction initiative.
But I’ve recently shifted my stance.
When people were sharing their distraction stories, I noticed that I was having a hard time coming up with my own; at that moment, nothing in my life felt like a distraction.
Sure, I scrolled through Instagram instead of reading a book, I putzed around my apartment during work hours, and I wandered aimlessly around the streets of NYC instead of working on a quarantine side project.
But, to be completely honest, I was also feeling directionless. And I realized that nothing feels like a distraction if I don’t know what path I’m on.
Most people, myself included, have a pretty hard time with feeling directionless. Humans are wired to progress in some way, and we’re also deeply socialized to achieve, produce, and succeed — to “move forward” on some meaningful path.
Setting goals (and obsessing about productivity as a means to achieve them) is, in many ways, an attempt to satisfy that urge and expectation.
The problem is that the many of these goals don’t actually reflect what we want in life.
Instead, they are often reflections of things we “should” want, things we’ve been conditioned to believe are commendable but often only bring superficial meaning and fulfillment.
Unless we question our paths, peel back the layers of “shoulds,” and reconnect with our true interests and desires, our lives will ultimately feel unsatisfying.
This is where distraction comes into play.
Distraction* is, in my opinion, the ultimate recalibration tool — a means of identifying what we naturally gravitate towards and where the gaps are in our lives. (*Distraction here refers to the desire to do something other than what you’re doing now, as distinct from, say, interruption.)
If I’m constantly distracted away from something, that’s an opportunity to get curious about why — do I not like working on the thing? Do I not see value in doing it? Do I not have enough support and accountability?
If I’m constantly distracted to a particular thing, what makes that thing so appealing to me? What gap is it filling? Is there a deeper need here that I need to address?
In this way, even if we have a life plan laid out, distraction can hint at subtle changes to make the plan even better. Sometimes, it can surface untenable issues that may warrant a different plan entirely.
And for those of us who don’t know what we want, let distraction be our compass.