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January 26, 2016

Embrace the Break & Ditch Distraction.

Flickr/Conor

If distraction were a job, I would be CEO.

I’ve got distraction down.

I can be doing literally anything and still master distraction. The thing is—is it a job that leads anywhere? Accomplishes anything? Makes me happy? What does distraction actually contribute to my life?

I’ll start by being fair—being open to the occasional distraction can be a good thing. It allows for a mental and physical break—some relaxation. Sometimes it’s healthy to allow for the occasional mindless Internet surf or a 30-minute giggle over the latest “New Girl” episode. Distraction can refresh the mind, take us out of an otherwise monotonous or challenging setting and send us back to our task with new ideas and a different perspective.

Now that we’ve given distraction it’s due credit, let’s talk sh*t about it.

Seriously 99 percent of the time, distraction is just a bad influence—a devilish little twit that’s keeping us from actually doing something with our lives. At least for me, it’s come to a point where distraction isn’t just keeping me from other tasks—it’s become the task.

Have I scrolled through Facebook at least 20 times today? You know it’s important to keep up with Tracey, who I haven’t seen since the 3rd grade. What if someone’s sent me a life-altering message? What if I’m missing out on the latest Kardashian scandal? (I heard Kylie has a long lost twin sister!) This is serious stuff.

But what if we didn’t keep up with these copious and oh-so-meaningful details? Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen? We’ve turned our social culture into something that feels all-consuming. It’s no longer just for entertainment. If we don’t keep up, we have a fear of getting left behind—of missing out. We are so hooked on being connected, that we’ve lost sight of what we’re connected to. Do we really want to be connected to a thoughtless stream of humdrum activities, bragged about by our ever growing online social circle?

Why are we wasting our time? And it’s a lot of time. According to the Daily Mail: “The average person spends 8 hours and 41 mins on electronic devices.”

My guess is much of this time is spent on purposeless activities. We are throwing away our lives to stay current with the newest Netflix hit and to see what everyone else is doing with their lives. People who—more often than not—we don’t even really care about, we are not close with, and we may not have even seen in over a decade. Why?

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do I do it to myself?

I feel frustrated, disappointed and angry. I’m smarter than this. I know there are much better uses of my time. But, then why can’t I stop? It’s like an addiction—an addiction to this thing called distraction, this thing that I’ve turned from being an occasional break to a full time job in and of itself.

Instead of excusing distraction, I’m going to put it in its place. I’ve been letting distraction go undercover, disguised as a break, when no—a break is a break. Distraction is a completely different animal. A break can be scheduled, or it can be had on a whim when needed.

The difference between distraction and a break is that a break has a time limit—a finish line. A break is just that—a temporary break from a task that you’re intending to return to once said break is finished. A distraction has no end in sight. It’s a dangerous creature. It can be tamed if we have experience, if we know how to handle it. But most of us don’t, and we let distraction run free and wild, doing as it wishes and eventually controlling the course of our hours, days and eventually lives.

Distraction is a time, energy and purpose sucker. Distraction can disguise itself in many sneaky forms—internet, TV, phone calls, urgent emails, drinking, eating, even self-improvement. Anything that’s not getting the job done is distraction, even if it comes in a helpful unassuming package.

Of course finishing Anna Karenina is not a waste of time. It adds knowledge and insight to your life, but at what cost? Everyone has different priorities and purposes. For you, finally finishing that Tolstoy novel may be a priority—one of the things you keep getting distracted from. To another, the same novel could be the distraction—a distraction from writing one’s own novel. So, it’s not necessarily helpful to group all distractions into one broad category, as individual priorities and therefore distractions can vary.

We must sit down and realize what we most want out of life. Let’s not even think that big—what do you want to get out of the next day—or month, or year? Really think about it, and stick to it, and don’t let distraction convince you otherwise—because it’s a tricky selfish beast that wants to gobble up all your attention. Tame it. Whip it into shape. Show it whose boss.

And instead, embrace a scheduled, time-limited break. A break is your considerate helpful friend. Distraction is that needy frenemy who you’re always getting sucked into hanging out with.

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Author: Steffi Erbilgin

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/Conor

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