By Steve Gilliland
It was a funny scene at my local health club yesterday. Two acquaintances got on adjoining treadmills, programmed the machines, but then started talking. One of the women pulled out the ubiquitous cell phone and scrolled through pictures. I couldn’t quite tell from a distance, but the banter seemed to be about a baby. Then another image, then another. After standing still for fifteen minutes while they talked, they stepped off their treadmills and walked away.
I am all for family and baby pictures, but it was clear they were so distracted with conversation and sharing photos that they neglected their exercise.
Recently, I have become fascinated with the topic of distraction. My take is a little different, but distraction is robbing many of us of our happiness. The women on the treadmill are lovely people, I am sure, but they weren’t sharing late-breaking news or vital information, but pictures that were taken days or weeks before. In doing so, they both abandoned their original intention, their focus, which was to get a little exercise.
Distraction, of course, is one aspect of procrastination, postponing what we need to do to get to a goal to have momentary pleasure. The problem is getting worse, not better.
Author N. Agnihorti recently wrote a book on the subject entitled Procrasdemon – The Artist’s Guide to Liberation From Procrastination. The word he coined is defined as “Procrasdemon is fighting hard to feed off of distractions and pleasures.” It is a demon.
Of course, the fight to feed off of every distraction and “pleasure” is hardly limited to painters, writers or any other type of artist. It affects everyone who has a goal in mind and the happiness that reaching that goal can bring.
Whether a person is striving to complete a college degree, polishing up and then sending off resumes, or finishing the building of that shed, becoming distracted over and then over again will block any happiness that comes from completing a task. The silliest part is that we won’t remember the distraction, but we will not forget the goal we didn’t reach.
Whether we want to define distraction as an interruption in our day or a demon that constantly takes us away from starting, let alone finishing, the goal we set out to accomplish, it is hardly harmless.
The problem with allowing our lives to get distracted by one thing or another is that it becomes the usual way — so many great people with noble ambitions fall by the wayside. It is easier now, more than ever, to get distracted. How many of us get distracted by our cell phones while people are trying to tell us something important? How often do we check our email rather than focusing on work?
There is an additional skirmish within the battle to keep from being distracted. Of course, many of our devices have been designed to side-track us and often to sell us stuff or to track us or even to gain information on us. We can get endlessly distracted with enticing advertising, sensational headlines and a gazillion videos that have often been recycled a thousand times before.
It’s A Mindset
I go back to the two nice women on the treadmills. Would the world have come to an end had one of them said, “I would love seeing the baby pictures. Let me work out for twenty minutes first.” It sets a boundary and also establishes a friendly acknowledgment that a goal is in mind.
Many years ago, I heard a story from Japan about a famous professor and his pupil. For weeks, the teacher had been waiting for a letter from his son and his wife (this was in the age of snail mail!). They were coming for a visit from America with his new grandbaby, and he and his wife were very excited about the prospect.
The professor and his student had finished the lesson and were sharing light conversation. The postman knocked on his door with a special delivery letter from America. The professor took the letter, lovingly placed it on his desk, and continued his conversation. He did not open the letter until he had seen two more students that day and went home and shared its contents with his wife.
The professor did not allow himself to become distracted, preferring to defer that pleasure until he had completed his goals of giving his students the undivided attention they deserved and his wife the respect of sharing the good news.
There is an elegance and a beauty in completing a task despite the conflict and pressures of distraction. To be sure, many great works have been accomplished by those with a committed mindset. Still, I sadly wonder about the never-fulfilled journeys due to unnecessary side trips and silly distractions long forgotten. Your results are the product of either personal focus or personal distractions. The choice is yours. Feed your focus. Starve your distractions.
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