By Seth Lusk
Distraction is somewhat of a buzzword these days. With more and more millennials and young adults being diagnosed with ADHD, people are wondering more than ever how it is that have all become so distracted in our lives. But maybe this question itself is part of the problem. Maybe the problem is not why we are so distracted. The real question is, why have we all become so distractable?
Distracted is the state of being in distraction. And to understand what this actually means, we need to know something important. That is what the opposite of distraction is. And, I know that most of you just immediately jumped to the buzzword that rides on the coat tails of distraction. That word is focus. But focus is not the opposite of distraction.
Nir Eyal can be thanked for shining a light on this topic in the last several years with his work surrounding distraction. The research around this topic has been there for a long time, but we can thank Nir Eyal for breathing some fresh air into the research and how it is being presented to the public.
Nir Eyal has brought it to common attention that the opposite of distraction is not focus. It is traction. Distraction is the opposite of traction. And when we think about traction we think of things like tires on a vehicle, or shoes. But traction does not stop there. Traction also means having grip that can be used to move forward toward a goal or destination.
What does this have to do with the buzzword distraction? The word distraction means that someone’s attention is being diverted from a task at hand or from a place of intended focus on a goal. We intentionally place our focus on something or into something because we desire to achieve something by doing so. Traction is anything that we do that moves us toward the desired goal or achievement.
Distraction happens when our attention is diverted from that intention or goal into something else that causes us to stop moving toward the intended goal, or it causes us to move in a different direction from the intended goal. This is distraction. Something that breaks traction toward the original intended direction or result.
This brings us back to the question we want to be asking. Why have we become so distractable? If we look at the question of why are we so distracted, the answers can be all over the place. There are so many options out there of ways that we can distract ourselves. We could blame so different devices, and technologies. We can blame social media. We can blame advertising corporations. The question of why we are distracted leans toward an answer of blame, which will not get us to see the full picture of responsibility here. We are distracted, not because of the things we use to distract ourselves, but because we have allowed ourselves to become very distractable.
Nir Eyal has helped in directing our focus here as well. He often talks about us taking our responsibility when it comes to distraction. You see, distraction does not happen to us. It is not that something out there distracted us. Distraction is an action that we choose. When we choose this action enough times, it becomes a habit. And the reason why we do this might surprise you.
You see, distraction can be used as a coping mechanism. It is used by the brain to help us deal with pain that is both physical and emotional. In certain contexts, this can be helpful, such as in cases of severe physical pain. It also can be helpful in situations where what we were distracting ourselves from, is something that is not important for us. But when it becomes a habit, we end up using this habit when the things that are important for us to do, also begin to feel uncomfortable for us.
Since most of us find ourselves distracted from the work that we set out to do, or the projects we told ourselves that we would give our attention to, it is safe to say that most of us are not distracting ourselves from physical pain. We are distracting ourselves from emotional pain. Or, most of us might call it emotional discomfort (since pain can be seen as maybe a bit of an extreme word here). The truth is that this emotional discomfort, to the brain, is the same as pain.
This is why I say that asking the question of why we are so distracted, does not really serve us in our quest to find solutions here. When we ask why are we so distracted, we point to the myriad of devices, services, and things out there that we use as distractions. But again, we are using them to distract ourselves. They are not using us to distract ourselves.
So, the real question we want to ask is, why are we becoming so distractable. And the answer is because we have all become masters in practicing the avoidance of emotional pain or discomfort. We have all been taught for so long and bought into belief systems for most of our lives surrounding the idea of the avoidance of emotional discomfort.
In a time when there are so many options available to help us in that desire to escape, having an ever-strengthening belief that emotional pain is to be avoided, only increases the likelihood of us seeking out ways to escape. And with the availability of those ways of escape becoming increasingly more and more available by the day, we strengthen this habit daily.
So, why have we become so distractable? The answer is, because we have all become very practiced in believing and acting on the belief that emotional discomfort is to be avoided at all costs. And we have the means to do this, every second of every day. Just look beside your dominant hand. I am almost certain that a rectangular device sits within reach right now, that with the touch of your hand will light up a screen that can take you to ANYWHERE other than RIGHT HERE, if you chose to do so. So if right here, becomes emotionally uncomfortable for you, even if the task at hand right here is so important, the habit of escaping that emotional discomfort might be stronger than your habit to follow through on what is important for you.
Which brings me to how authenticity plays into all of this. If you read the title of this article you noticed that I want to talk with you all about distraction and authenticity. And trust me, authenticity has a HUGE role in all of this.
You see, some of you might already be asking this by now, but for those of you who aren’t, I want to pose another important question for you. Why is it that what is important for us, has become less important than escaping emotional discomfort?
The answer to this is quite complex. The truth is that for so many of us, escaping emotional discomfort has become the top priority for our brains, because it is the most frequently practiced activity that we take part in daily. Food, tv, internet, shopping, online shopping, gaming, apps on our phones, social media, alcohol, vacations, the list goes on and on, of the ways in which we practice escaping emotional discomfort on a daily basis. And for some of us we practice it hourly, or minute by minute, or even second by second. We are constantly seeking out something that can take our minds off of the thought processes we have going on in our heads that feel emotionally uncomfortable for us.
The answer to our question of why we are more practiced at escaping emotional discomfort rather than doing what is important for us goes a bit deeper than this though. And to answer this, we need to ask another question. That question is this…
“What is important to me?”
Go ahead. Take a minute. Answer that question for yourself.
Your answers might surprise you. They might not. They probably range greatly from person to person. And for many people the answer might include an, “I’m not sure”, or an “I don’t know”. For those that do not include one of these phrases, I want to ask another question. Why are your answers that you gave important to YOU?
And for many of you answering this question will include words like “have to” “need to” “should”, etc…
You might be wondering where I am going with this. So, let me just cut right to the chase here. Answering the question of what is truly important for us, is crucial. The reason why, is because most of us do not know what is truly important for us. Most of us know what we think should be important for us, or has to be important for us. And the reason why we think that is because of what we have been told we should, need to, have to, believe about life, and ourselves.
What does this all have to do with distraction an authenticity? You might be getting a bit lost or distracted feeling by now, so let me drive home a bit here where I am going with all of this.
The truth is that so many of us have become so distractable in the 21st century, because we do not know what is truly important for us on any sort of authentic level. And when we do not know this at a time when we are being asked to constantly perform, and create, and contribute, and interact, and compare ourselves and our lives with BILLIONS of others that are being shoved in front of our eyes 24/7 through screens that are always in front of our eyes; then the emotional discomfort of taking constant action is growing within us exponentially. And while this is growing, we are being taught, and encouraged by those same screens to avoid that emotional discomfort with more of that screen time, food, alcohol, and more that is ALWAYS available for us.
Most of us our out here taking actions that are not important for us. We might believe they “should be” important, but we do not know why they are important to us . We are working on projects that we were told by social media, friends, family, peers, etc… that they make us “better people” or “more successful people”, or “more likeable people”. We are being told by our bosses that we have to do them. We are being told by society that to be good enough, and fit in, that we need to be doing them.
We are filling our calendars with more and more stuff to do that is either not an authentic want for us, or we have no clue why it could be an authentic want for us. We are being told to constantly try and prove our worth, and acceptability in this life by completing those tasks by a standard that is always being moved by the needle of comparison. And the scale of comparison is growing more and more rapidly on a daily basis as we become more and more connected with more and more people globally. And this intensifies regularly as globalization continues to move forward.
I am not here to say that globalization is a bad thing. What I am here to say, is that globalization of societies that are full of people who do not know what they want to believe about themselves and life, who are constantly looking around them for cues of what should be important for them, and how to prove that they are good enough, creates a TON of emotional discomfort for people. Globalization during a period when societies are full of people who do not know who they are, or who they want to believe they are; so they are looking around them (and online) to be told who they are or who they should be; is creating a TON of emotional discomfort.
So, add this globalization into the fact that more and more performance, and task completion is being asked of us year after year compounds emotional discomfort. Add this to the fact that so many of us are in jobs that we do not know why we are in them, other than that we were told to believe that they are good jobs and we should do them. We are creating a life of emotional trauma for so many people. So many of us have our calendars full of task after task of things that all we really know is that we should be, have to be, or need to be doing them; and we have created a perfect storm for distractibility.
So many of us are living lives that are so full of inauthenticity, it is no wonder we are drenched in emotional discomfort. And what makes it harder is that none of us are being taught the skills to find what it is that we would authentically want for our lives. We are being taught people pleasing, and comparison at every turn. These only lead us to more inauthenticity.
Bundle ALL OF THIS, with a culture that tells us to seek comfort, pleasure, and escape whenever we can, and we have created a world PRIMED for distractibility. Then we place the people of that world in front of devices that are designed to provide methods of emotional numbing (distraction), or emotional escape; and we have created the mess of distraction that we see today. We have given a culture of masters in distraction, the power to ask for more and more distraction, and the market continues to answer with more and more options for it, and makes those options quicker and cheaper to access every day.
But if we focus on the methods of distraction that we are all choosing, and how available they are for us, then we miss the point here. The market is the market. It does what it was always designed to do. That is, to respond to demand. The market is being a responsible market. But are we being responsible humans, by increasing the demand for methods of distraction from the market? Are we being responsible as humans for increasing the demand on the intensity of distraction available for us, the speed at which we can access it, and demanding the ever decreasing cost of accessing it?
This is where the real work begins my friends. We can point fingers at tech companies, and disempower ourselves. We can make all of humanity a giant victim to technology. Or, we can take our power and responsibility back. It starts individually though. We cannot rely on this “normalization culture” movement. We each need to begin to individually look at our own lives, and understand where we handed our power away here. We each need to individually look at how and why we developed the habit of distraction within our lives.
Another place to examine is where have we allowed inauthenticity into our lives to create lives in which every day we are taking inauthentic action toward inauthentic goals and dreams, and compounding the normal emotional pain of being a human with the pain of living a completely inauthentic life? This is leading us to seek so much more distraction. But the responsibility does not end there.
We each need to also own our individual responsibility in taking back our emotional experience of life. Emotional responsibility is the beginning of an authentic life. And this means being able to experience ALL of our human emotions, without escaping them, or reacting to them. This means learning to be present with our emotions, process them, and learn what they are there to help us with in life. We have the power and responsibility to do this, and it is how we start living authentically.
Emotions are the core of the human experience. For so long we have been taught to resist or react to so many of them.
We have been taught that there are good and bad emotions. There is so much social programming around the idea that certain emotions are negative while others are positive, and that the goal is to only experience the positive ones, or to experience them more, to have a better life. But this is not the case. A fulfilling life is a life where we experience the FULL range of human emotions with presence, and acceptance.
So, the point of this article here is this.
We live in a world where we feel increasingly more and more distracted, not because of the distractions that exist. We feel this way because we have allowed ourselves to live in ways where we have become more and more distractable. We have created stories about ourselves and our lives that urge us to strengthen the habit of distraction. The solution is not to remove distractions, it is to solve for our distractibility. And we solve for that with authenticity. Emotional responsibility is the first step to living an authentic life.
You don’t need another app to end your streak of distraction. You do not need another calendar. You do not need less things to do. You do need less inauthentic things to do though.
The answer is to begin the inner work. Healing the message that emotional discomfort is something we need to get rid of or escape. Heal the inauthentic messages within your belief system about what you should and have to or need to be doing with your life. Get back to the message of what you authentically wanted for your life, before you bought into the inauthentic beliefs. This is where the solution for distraction is.
I got into authenticity coaching because of the lack of authenticity I was seeing in people’s lives. The ways in which that inauthenticity is producing symptoms in people’s lives, is growing daily. Distraction is one of the many symptoms.
Authenticity may sound so silly or insignificant to a belief system that glorifies external comparison, validation, and competition. Authenticity may sound like a “soft skill” in a world that constantly encourages you to seek more and more “stuff” to make you feel better. But authenticity is the most powerful skill in a world that is driving more and more of us into lives in which we have become disempowered victims to ourselves, and the world around us.
You want to know how to overcome the habit of distraction?
Unleash your authentic extraordinary and find the path in your life that you were designed for. Learn to have a clear vision of your authentic purpose in this life that aligns with what you authentically value in this life (not what you were told you should value, or what you are afraid to not value). Once you have this clear vision, design a path in your life that pulls you toward that vision. Learn to fill your time with things that align you with that vision, and pull you closer and closer to embodying that vision in your life. Fill your calendar with activities that pull you into showing up in your life more and more as the person you were authentically designed to show up as. Develop the skills of consistently taking aligned action with that vision, and watch the habit of distraction melt away.
This is the solution to distraction is authenticity.
Seth Lusk, Founder, and CEO of Authentic Life Connection: coaching services. He is also the podcast creator and host for the Authentic Life Connection podcast. He is a published author of the book What I really want is… But I’m Just too full of… . This book is available on Amazon for purchase. Seth is a Life coach as well. He works with clients one-to-one as well as in groups to help them create their most authentic and fulfilling life, from the inside out. Seth is also the founder and CEO of Lusk Holistic Health Services (the umbrella company for Authentic Life Connection: coaching services). Under this umbrella company Seth also provides guidance in fitness and nutrition for his clients. This comes from his background and education in exercise science and nutrition. Seth has worked with hundreds of clients to get clear on their authentic goals for their life, fitness, and health, and helped them create unstoppable authentic action to actualize these in their lives. For more about how to get in touch with Seth or hear more about his work, you can find him @ https://www.lifecoachseth.com . There you can access his podcast, book, social media, as well as speak with Seth directly about working with him one-to-one as coach/coachee. To access the “Authentic Life Connection” podcast, follow the link below