How often do you think about your distractions?

Today is January 1 and the Navigate the Chaos to consider is “How often do you think about your distractions?” Your ability to grow personally and professionally requires an understanding of what distracts you. As you begin another year and set resolutions, consider reflecting upon how you use time and grasp a better understanding of your distractions. The word distraction is derived from distract which traces its etymology back to the Latin verbs distrahere, from dis- ‘apart’ + trahere ‘to draw, drag.’ What drags you away from what you want to do or should be doing? As you reflect upon today’s question, keep in mind that “People experience distractions differently” as Diana Kwon noted in a July 16, 2015 Scientific American article.


According to research conducted in 2015 by Gallup “Despite the fast-paced, multitasking, constantly-in-touch life many Americans live today, the 48% who say they do not have enough time to do what they want to do is not much different from the 47% average over the past 14 years. Further, the percentage is slightly lower than it was in the 1990s.” Another way of interpreting this conclusion is that some percentage, and it is safe to say approximately half of the American population, simply does not have enough time, and has not had enough time over the course of decades regardless of technological advancements.


The expression of being too busy and lacking enough time, however, has been a constant through the centuries. For example, in the 17th century French philosopher and moralist Jean de la Bruyère wrote “Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” Three centuries later author H. Jackson Brown Jr. noted: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”


Have you thought about these two observations? Let us reflect upon Bruyère’s observation about those who complain the most are the ones who mismanage their time. How much do you complain about your lack of time? Has complaining benefited your life in some way? Has it changed your ability to do more? Now let us ponder Brown’s observation that everyone, from Jefferson to Einstein, has just 24 hours in a day. Have you ever thought about this? Anyone that has ever accomplished anything, regardless of its significance, had the same 24 hours in a day that you did. How you value your time, how you spend your time, and how often you manage your distractions reveals quite a bit about your character and your ability to navigate the chaos.


Generally, there are two types of distractions: negative and positive. Negative distractions can range from deadly, like texting while driving, to the more mundane, watching too much television. In short, negative distractions often prohibit people from living a safe and fulfilling life. Trying to finish college, lose weight, or find a new job? Do yourself a favor and track how much time you spend on social media, watching television, traveling to concerts, or hanging out with your friends. Due to on-demand television and the availability of shows on phones and tablets, a new phrase has recently entered the entertainment industry – binge watching. Binge-watching television, defined as watching two or more consecutive episodes of a show, at least once a week is now prevalent among many American adults.


According to research published in November 2018 by a Morning Consult/ Hollywood Reporter poll, 60% of all TV viewers report watching two or more episodes of a show in a row at some point in the week while 45% of young adults have canceled social plans to watch a show. Do you binge watch? If so, have you then also complained you did not have enough time to complete a project, reach a goal, or move forward on a dream? If you binge watch television and then complain about your lack of time, it is evident that you need to improve your self-awareness and better understand how you manage your distractions.


While negative distractions deter our forward progress, positive distractions serve a useful purpose as we look to navigate the chaos. Positive distractions, however, are indeed healthy and serve as a moment of much needed cerebral or physical rest. Distractions are a good thing when then help us either mentally or physically. “Distractions can help us stay fit. Research suggests taking our minds off the pain of physical exercise, with music or television, can improve performance and endurance.”


As Julie Weed wrote in a March 16, 2010 New York Times article "Concentrate on the Workout? No, Thanks," physicians and trainers suggest common distractions, like listening to music or talking to a companion, “can be valuable at just about any level, from beginners trying to persuade themselves to go to the gym, to committed athletes preparing for a race. Everyone performs better when they lessen the aversive nature of their exercise." So positive distractions do indeed play an important role in our lives. In the end, what matters is your ability to differentiate between negative and positive distractions, your desire to manage your distractions, and your commitment to navigating the chaos.


How often do you think about your distractions?