Distractions are a huge deal in our lives. For most people, they are either distracted and not present or not present because they’re distracted. Either way, we need to take an honest look at the role that distractions play in our lives.

What are distractions anyway?

Distractions are things that prevent someone from giving full attention to something else. That something else can be projects, tasks, other people or even our inner, authentic selves. If we’re being really honest, most of us would admit that we don’t always have a healthy relationship with distractions.

We often think of distractions as external things that take our attention away from what we’re doing or who we’re with. But to fully appreciate the nature of distractions, we need to see them as a choice that we make. We are not victims of distractions.  Distractions represent a mental decision to shift our focus.

Distractions are really hard on our health.  Research has shown that the brain is not able to focus on more than one thing at a time, and when we try to do that we experience stress, make more errors and take longer to complete tasks.

I am an expert on distractions, as I spent a great deal of my life having an unhealthy relationship with distractions. The interesting thing is that I wasn’t even aware I was actually seeking out ways to be distracted. I, like many people, wasn’t comfortable being alone with myself. If I thought I was going to have some alone time I would quickly try and fill up my time with all sorts of things like shopping, movies, meals with friends anything so that I didn’t need to be alone with myself and more specifically with my thoughts and feelings. I was actually using distractions to hide from myself and to get away from some uncomfortable feelings and emotions that I didn’t want to deal with.

For many people distractions equal avoidance.

We become addicted to distractions even though it’s an addiction that ultimately causes us more suffering. Life for many of us has become one big distraction. When we allow ourselves to be seduced by all the shiny things in our external worlds we don’t need to become aware of our inner worlds.

To further add fuel to the allure of distractions, we think that all these distractions will fill us up and bring that feeling of calm and peace that we all want. And unfortunately, the opposite happens and we feel uncomfortable, anxious and unsettled.

I know many people, my “old self” included, that believe their behavior is motivated by the fact that they’re extroverts. I always believed that I needed to be with people all the time, with things to do, because that’s what extroverts do. It was not until I experienced a collapse in my world view and a mini “nervous breakthrough” that I realized that I was using extroversion as an excuse and I was actually hiding from myself.

We have so many ways to be distracted in our current lives and being distracted has become the norm. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay.

The more opportunities there are for distractions, the more we lose our ability to be with ourselves. This is one of the main reasons why I never thought it would be possible for me to meditate. Quite honestly, the thought of sitting quietly with myself made me extremely nervous and resistant to meditation.

When I learned to be okay and actually enjoyed being with myself, a whole new world opened up for me. I became less needy, stressed, externally motivated and way more in tune with myself and my needs. I no longer needed other people, activities or things to fill me up.

Becoming less dependent on distractions is an ongoing process requiring continual reflection, honesty and at times the feeling of withdrawal. Meditation has been a great tool to help cope with this.

We know that some distractions are part of life and if we’re not going to hide away in some remote area we need to develop healthy relationships with distractions. Let’s start by being honest and doing some soul searching about the role that distractions are playing in our lives.

Are you trying to avoid something? Are distractions being used to fill you up in some way? Is your relationship with distractions healthy?