Linda Lewis Griffith

The devil is in the distractions

At a ecent multi-generational gathering, we began talking about ways that we waste time. We unanimously agreed that cell phones, social media and the Internet were responsible for countless misspent hours.

We were also quick to recognize that electronic gadgets weren’t the only culprits. In fact, any activity that we do too much or that interferes with daily responsibilities becomes a candidate for wasted-time status. Even supposedly lofty pastimes, such as reading, practicing a musical instrument or going to the gym can be distracting if we do them instead of completing our chores.

The key isn’t condemning modern devices. Rather, it’s managing the myriad disruptions we encounter throughout the day.

Distractibility is closely related to its cousin, procrastination, which is the act of habitually putting off responsibilities until a later date. In fact, procrastinators frequently engage in creative methods of time wasting to not start tasks at all.

The cumulative impact of all our distractions is far reaching. We’re not as productive at work or school. Our homes and cars suffer from disrepair. Our physical health declines because we’re too distracted to take better care of ourselves.

Distractions also wreak havoc with our self-esteem. We know that our attentions are momentarily misdirected, but we’re unwilling to come back to task. We fail to finish something that needed doing, and we berate ourselves for being weak and out of control.

People who are easily distracted often tell themselves that they’re stupid or disorganized or unmotivated.

They’re quick to make excuses for their behavior: “I didn’t have enough time to get all my work done,” or “I missed my flight because of all the traffic.”

At the same time, they know they’re being dishonest. They had ample time to do the work or get where they needed to be. The problem was they got distracted by things that didn’t matter, then couldn’t complete the things that did.

Levels of distractibility vary dramatically from person to person.

Some folks have no trouble concentrating for hours, while others are unable to focus for more than a few seconds. Certain mental disorders, such as ADHD and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, predispose people toward attention-related problems. Those who suffer with addictions are unable to stop a destructive behavior even when it significantly interferes with daily functioning.

Distractibility changes throughout our lives.

If we’re moving to a new area, dealing with a loved one’s illness or going through a business failure, we’re more prone to being emotionally scattered than if we’re settled and feeling calm.

Certain activities are more captivating than others. Video games are notorious for holding kids’ attentions when less stimulating pastimes cause them to quickly lose interest.

Distractions aren’t new. And they’re never going away. Managing them carefully keeps their impact to a minimum.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://www.lindalewisgriffith.com.  

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