That force that pulls you away from what it is you were doing or planning to do.
It can be a short sharp intervention or a gentle and persistent nagging or attraction.
The consensus from our delegates was that distraction was the ultimate cause that stopped them doing the things they wanted or needed to do.
Good intentions, necessity, and desire can all crumble in the face of well-designed distractions, especially for activities we don’t like or don’t want to do?
Distraction just eats them for breakfast.
Two categories of distraction?
Day to Day
Many of us think of distraction solely in terms of what happens in the moment when we are attempting to focus on something else. This category of distraction is about all the moment-by- moment stimuli that pull us away from doing whatever it is we are working on now. These are Secondary stimuli that stop us working on what we are doing now and leads our minds in a dance that takes us elsewhere in terms of thinking and doing.
The second category is less obvious but has an equally powerful impact.
Many delegates told us that they realised they operated in a world that demanded a ‘performance’ from them. This happened not just at work but also in their personal lives and relationships. The performance was often imposed, expected or even silently implied.
Unless they were careful, these demands took over. Unless they were strong in defending their right to define their own areas of ‘performance’, they could end up doing things or working towards things that were the dreams of others.
This is the Primary or big distraction. Something that appears so ‘right’ or so ‘proper’ that we follow it even though goes against our true nature and doesn’t produce the results we want.
These are often so big that we don’t notice them at the time and it takes a dose of hindsight to see what’s really happening. Think climbing the wrong ladder or the ladder being against the wrong wall and getting lost in climbing rather than where you are going. (The Potters Tale)
Our delegates had many examples of both categories.
Many of the younger ones were only too aware of their secondary distractions that took them away, moment by moment, from the task at hand. Many who were engaged in performances that they thought mattered to them felt they were constantly fighting to remain on piste.
Some of the older ones could look back at whole chunks of their lives and see where they felt they had been completely distracted from living their best life. Some could see years of what had felt like very important work at the time as a detour or worse a waste of prime years of their life.
These Primary distractions are more difficult to see than the Secondary stimuli. That’s why it’s a good idea to stop every now again and check if what you do will take you where you want to go.
Some of us think it’s inevitable that the world and its distractions are perfectly designed to keep us from pursuing our dreams and achieving our goals.
You could think about this positively as in keeping us safe
or you could think something about herding ?
Defence from primary distractions
It’s hard to defend the relaxing things some of us want to do. I find it hard to put these down on paper too but here’s an attempt….
For example, a couple having breakfast on a Saturday morning.
Husband says, “What are you doing today?”
Wife says, “I’m sitting in the sun.”
Husband: “Oh nothing special then….”
Wife: “Well actually I’m sitting in the sun…”
Husband not getting it says, “Ok (whatever?) can you help me tidy the garden? It’s just that what with my mother coming tomorrow, she’s so fussy and I so want to make a good impression. You know how I hate it when we end up talking about jobs I haven’t done.”
Husband: “Oh come on you’re not doing anything anyway and it’s your garden too…”
They tidy the garden.
There’s a million trainer-style points to make about ownership, assertiveness, the differences between empathy and sympathy in this exchange. But the main takeaway is that it’s hard to defend doing ‘nothing’ even though it’s what you want to do.
A good example came up with a company we worked with who had trouble keeping part-time staff. These part timers all worked 3 days a week. Some worked Friday, Monday, and Tuesday; others on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This part-time schedule worked well because everyone worked on their own projects alone. The part timers only had to meet with other employees and management for the occasional team meeting or briefing.
The boss was a nice caring soul who did her best for the company and the team. She had a schedule of when the part timers worked but she had trouble keeping in mind who would be in or not. She sent ‘send to all’ emails for the things like team meetings and briefings because she felt every employee should know what was happening.
When we looked more carefully at who left and who stayed, we found the ones who stayed typically had another job elsewhere. The ones who left tended to have fewer formal activities on their two days off. These were the mums, the carers, the budding authors, and struggling actors who were working on the own stuff alongside the part-time job.
It wasn’t the whole problem but the underlying issue was hours creep. The two groups had a different reason for not working more than three days. Those with other jobs could say, I’m sorry I’m working at the other job. Management accepted this answer and did not pressure those with other jobs to attend meetings outside of their work schedule.
Others who had personal or family reasons for working part-time struggled to defend them to management when asked to attend meetings outside of their work schedule. Management did not accept these reasons as valid and pressured these folks to attend meetings and briefings outside their work schedule.
Our courses on learning how to eliminate distractions targets something that many people struggle with, valuing your right to do your thing and giving your agenda equal validity to other people’s agendas.
A myriad of song lyrics that sum this up such as this Pink Floyd “Breathe” track on Dark Side of the Moon:
Run, rabbit run.
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down – it’s time to dig another one.
For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave.
You can read about balancing jobs and ‘Me’ time free on kindle unlimited in the story of The Fishermans’ Seconds.
Is all Distraction bad?
We know we can easily spend time doing things that don’t help us and don’t suit us. We can get lost in the doing or the thinking and forget everything and everybody else. Successful people keep an eye on what they do to check if it’s:
- really their choice
- really giving them what they want in the moment or longer term
But this is hard to do if you’re having a good time or are in the ‘I just need to get this done’ mode.
- Some say that if we are busy doing something that doesn’t suit us, something we might find addictive, or something that leads us away from what we really want to have, do or be, then distraction is a good thing.
- Some say if we are engaged in something that we decide we want done, then distraction can slow us down and even stop us.
- Some say distraction can only lead us astray if and when we are unconvinced by the argument for doing what we are doing and so it doesn’t really matter at all.
Regardless of what others say about distraction, it is still important to understand basic success elements of knowing where you are going, why you are going there and what you need to do or are doing to get you there. Only by understanding this can you judge the impact of any distraction.
Mechanisms of Distraction
There are probably as many types of distraction as there are humans. It takes a myriad of forms and varies from person to person. We can simplify things by thinking about its two sources: External and Internal.
Distraction can start with an external stimulus. Something that catches any one of our senses and starts a series of responses. But these responses can only be maintained by our subsequent internal responses. There is a choice, often well-hidden here, that lurks between the stimuli and our responses. This choice is about letting the distraction go. Read more about this choice here.
Internal distraction starts when original stimulus is from inside us. We are sitting on a log watching the water and the birds and suddenly we are thinking about work or relationships or money or today’s problem.
We can still choose to let things go. But internal distractions make it more difficult for us to make a choice and avoid the ongoing distraction.
Source of Distractions
The instigator of these distractions, the one who generates the flow of thoughts is what meditators call the chattering Monkey or Monkey. Traditional meditation advice encourages us to ignore the distraction and redirect our focus to something else. This could mean noticing, rising above, focussing on your breathing, etc.
But the Monkey helps us react to whatever has just happened with a number of thoughts, ideas, and suggestions that we may label as distraction.
I am no longer watching the trees and instead I am focussed on solving the problem of making next month’s mortgage payment.
Some distraction is good and some is bad. Often, we don’t know which is which when it happens. It often takes time to understand if things help or hinder.
The White Horse story illustrates how time changes whether events help or hinder us.
The main considerations here are about who is steering your ship. Are you the captain of your ship? The captain of your fate? The one who will create the life you want? Or are you happy to run with whatever distraction throws at you?
It’s a choice
If you want to be in charge and work towards things you want to make happen with the full force of your power, you have to get to the point where your relationship with distraction and its cause (your Monkey) works for you.
What is possible?
- Some people think that they cannot control their Monkey and they tend to find this is true for them.
- Some people think that their Monkeys are only there to hinder them and they tend to find this is true for them.
This means that:
Monkeys have to be put up with. Monkeys keep you busy on the things that don’t seem to matter to you. Monkeys pull you away from your chosen focus and your attention slips.
When your attention slips you are:
- Unable to see things through
- Unable to stick to the things you think you want
- Unable to think things through
- Unable to see things through
- Unable to formulate a plan that matters or unable to follow it through
We are told Monkeys must be ignored but ask any meditator or mindfulness practitioner – Ignoring Monkeys is a big job and for most of us it doesn’t work.
If this has been your experience, then it’s time for a new approach.
- Some people think that they can control their Monkey and they tend to find this is true for them.
- Some people think that their Monkeys are only there to help them and they tend to find this is true for them.
Consider the possibility that you can alter the way you work with your Monkey, that it’s possible to work together and create a new, more effective internal world where you can:
- Pay attention
- Keep your Focus
- Work in a new way with clear direction and an understanding of how the world works for you.
- Enjoy less Distraction
- Have more peace, confidence and belief
- Harness the power of a workaholic team player who is there to help
Your new power
It’s then up to you what you use this opportunity for.
- Meditation experience
- Goal achievement
- Name yours here
If you want to try it on for size the Misaligned Monkey challenge guides you through a 12 week transformation program to reengineer your existing relationship with your Monkey.
The Misaligned Monkey Challenge
To Assess your current relationship, take our Monkey Relationship survey here.