Finding Significance in a World of Distraction

“Focus is often a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” - John Carmack

Distractions. Our world has become a constant feed of information and entertainment. We take our phones with us everywhere we go. We connect to the internet wirelessly from thousands of locations. We are fed messages relentlessly from advertisements on nearly every flat surface. And we are bombarded with a 24-hour news cycle. Each enter our mind with one goal: Gain control of our attention and resources.

With so much information battling for space in our mind, it’s no wonder our attention span has been steadily shrinking. In The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, Nicholas Carr points out that in 2000, the average amount of time we could stay focused on one task without our mind wandering to something new was 12 seconds. Today, it’s 8 seconds. The information age may be literally rewiring our brains.

Certainly these types of distractions are ones that we all relate to on some level. But I often wonder if these small diversions might not be nearly as harmful to our lives as the larger distractions that drive us away from accomplishing our most significant goals. The trivial-information-overload distractions may pull our attention from the work right in front of us, but the larger distractions in life may keep us from realizing the life we truly desire to live… and yet, these distractions go virtually unnoticed.

For example, the distraction of a lucrative and powerful career has the opportunity to distract us from using our talents to benefit our immediate community. The distraction of maintaining a large and perfect home may pull us from caring for the people living in it. The urge to check up on our Facebook friends steals more of our time than the friends right in front of us. And the opportunity to spend money on newer and trendier possessions may divert us from using it to accomplish a greater good in this world. In each case, the distraction keeps us from accomplishing a greater significance with our lives.

These are the distractions that can cause irreversible harm in our lives. But unfortunately, far too often, they go unnoticed. Our lives go unevaluated. As a result, we are lured by them away from true significance in our lives. And our greatest goals go unmet.

How then, do we recognize these large – yet subtle – distractions in our lives? How do we regularly assess the path of our lives to ensure that we are seeking and investing into the most significant? Perhaps it’s not as hard as we imagine… maybe it only requires a little intentionality and effort. And often times, realizing the need for it is the first step.

Additionally, consider committing time and effort to one of these helpful keys to identify the presence of significant distractions in our lives:

1. Be mindful of the culture we’re swimming in. All around us, nearly every moment of the day, messages are battling for space in our minds. They are promoting products, messages, and world-views. Often times, the urgent voices will be far louder than the significant ones. Identify both the messages and their source. And make intentional decisions because of it.

2. Pause and reflect. Next time you desire to make a purchase, check Facebook, work late, or engage in a habit that controls you… pause. Consider the urge and reflect upon it. Is it really the most effective use of your time/money? Or is there something more significant you can accomplish with your limited resources?

3. Review and record. Commit to journaling your time and/or financial outlay over the course of one week. Each evening, spend 5-10 minutes to make some rough notes on your day. How much time did I spend working? How much energy did I put towards my family, my friends, or my faith? To what end did I use my financial resources this week? The hard evidence of your life’s focus will become easy to diagnose and difficult to argue with when you see it on paper.

4. Get some outside perspective. Ask a trusted friend, a spouse, or family member to speak into your life. Consider asking this simple question, “Hey, I’ve been doing some life evaluation lately. Have you noticed any unhealthy habits in my life?” When they answer, don’t get defensive. Instead, search deeply for the truth in their response.

5. Find time alone. Begin to practice moments of solitude away from the distractions of this world. The more you cultivate this practice, the more comfortable you’ll become with it. And the more comfortable you become with it, the more you’ll allow the silence to reveal your true heart, desires, and intentions.

6. Seek some inspiration. Surround yourself with people who are living out your goals. Surround yourself with people who are accomplishing the greater goods with their lives. You’ll find numerous people online who can encourage you from a distance. But they’ll never replace the interpersonal interaction with a friend right in front of you. Seek them out.

7. Live with fewer possessions. Often times, the things we own become far more of a distraction to our lives than we realize. We spend time and money researching them, purchasing them, organizing them, cleaning them, fixing them, discarding them, and replacing them. Our possessions often add more burden to our life than benefit. And you’ll never fully realize the benefits of living with less, until you actually choose to pursue it.

There is little doubt our world is filled with distractions – it always has been. And there is little doubt that those who achieve the greatest significance in life learn to manage them effectively. It is certainly worth the investment to recognize them in our lives and make the necessary life adjustments… after all, we only get one shot at it.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Just wanted to say thanks for this blog. You write about so many things that I’ve understood and felt in recent years on my own. It’s nice to hear those passions/obsessions articulated in such an elegantly straightforward way. It reaffirms that I’m not as crazy as my junk hoarding friends think I am. Keep it up!

    • says

      I agree with you. Joshua is simply great. As he said, we need to seek some inspiration and connect more with people who share with us the same interest. I’m thinking of checking MeetUp for groups in my town who are interested in simple living.

      • says

        Agree with both. Lets continue working hard on our passions, it’s the best thing that we can do in order to improve our human experience on earth.
        It’s good to know that there are so many people interested in evolve as human beings.

        FC
        mnmlxstnc
        Be the change you want to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

    • says

      That would be good for you. Since I’ve changed my smartphone for an old cell phone and now I have more time and less distraction.

  2. says

    Joshua, thanks for your words, really.

    It’s quite complicated to get rid distractions. I’ve been doing some of the things listed above and helped me out ( especially #5 and #7).

    “Seek significance rather than success.”

    FC
    minimalexistence

  3. says

    Thank you for these thoughts. I agree that the pull of technology can have a huge impact on influencing our priorities if we are not grounded in who we are and how we want to live our lives. My favorite is stepping away from electronics for time alone and getting outside. It may seem cliche, but a breath of fresh air clears my head and helps me refocus when I’m feeling most distracted.

  4. Nicole says

    Hi Joshua,

    I had bookmarked one of your posts and finally went back to it and actually delved into your blog a bit. It is WONDERFUL! Clutter and distractions are the biggest obstacles in my life (therefore my family’s life). Your words, lessons, experiences, etc. shared on this blog are so important! Thank you for doing what you do. Please keep it up!

  5. says

    Great article on focus. I’m still working on narrowing my Facebook, and internet use, but quitting TV was one of the best things I’ve done. It helped me reduce my desire for more new stuff. I lost weight, because I used to snack in front of the TV. I wasted a lot of time in front of the TV. Reducing the distraction of internet overuse is still a habit I have to change though.

    • says

      I totally agree with you. I got rid of my TV and now I have a lot of time for doing truly enjoyable things, my desire of consume really went down and it gave me a super-energy boost. It was one of the best choices that I’ve ever made.

    • says

      I totally agree with you. I got rid of my TV and now I have a lot of time for doing truly enjoyable things, my desire of consume really went down and it gave me a super-energy boost. It was one of the best choices that I’ve ever made.

  6. says

    I have to message my sister every time I log in to facebook, partly because it gets embarrassing to admit that I log on as much as I do. It’s caused me to decrease the number of times in a day I’ve logged on, and see just how much I feel the “need” to check it. Not healthy, but it sneaks up on you!

  7. says

    There’s nothing wrong with some distraction. “All work and no play…”

    The trick is managing those distractions. As for your opening paragraph, not all of us carry our phones everywhere and “connect to the internet wirelessly from thousands of locations.” I spend enough time on the internet when I’m at home. When I’m out and about is my time to take a break and disconnect.

    There is nothing so important that it can’t wait an hour or a day. Certainly emails and blog posts and comments can wait. And I don’t even do Facebook, Twitter, and similar social timewasting, er, networking sites at all.

  8. says

    Love this Joshua. Focus IS just as much about what you are NOT going to do as what you ARE going to do.
    As far as diminishing attention spans, I can see it in myself. I used to read book after book after book, but I can’t tell you the last time I finished a real book. Or even an ebook (I have both of yours and haven’t completed yet!) I have gotten used to the short quick bits of info that Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and news sites can give me.
    Great post! I think I need to go the library…
    Bernice
    Cleaning out your emotional garbage

  9. says

    This is a great article. It’s so easy to get caught up in the distractions and lose focus of what’s truly important. One of the things I’ve decided to do in the near future is write out a personal “mission statement” with specific goals and values that I want to focus on, and I’ll put it on the refrigerator to serve as a reminder to really consider if what I’m spending my time is really an important part of my life’s mission.

  10. EJC says

    Your article has inspired me to look at distractions and make some adjustments. I’m new to this “minimalism thing”, just stumbled upon it by accident but it does make a lot of sense, thank you Joshua!

  11. says

    Intentional evaluation is the key. A few years ago, I took the time to craft a personal mission statement, and I pause several times a year to make sure what I’m doing is lining up with that. If something – no matter how worthwhile – isn’t lining up with my personal mission statement, it’s a distraction. There’s no other way of looking at it.

    I haven’t tried journaling in the specific way you mention, though, and I might try that. The nightly reminder will be more immediate and keep me more focused than a general check every couple of months.

  12. says

    “Is it really the most effective use of your time/money? Or is there something more significant you can accomplish with your limited resources?”
    This in particular really speaks to me. Thank you for this.

  13. Karen says

    I am reading up on the minimalist lifestyle and I’m beginning to really clear my life of physical stuff (i.e. extra clothes, books, knick knacks, kitchen utensils etc.) I already feel so much freer and “lighter”. This blog gives me an added perspective on minimalism…the often unseen clutter in our lives. This really is an “ah ha” moment for me! Thank you!

  14. says

    Just found this site and love it.

    Especially agree with # 7 – live with fewer possessions.

    As the years go by, I’m beginning to see “you’ll never fully realize the benefits of living with less, until you actually choose to pursue it.”

    Feels lighter…

  15. Stephanie says

    This is wonderful…

    “These are the distractions that can cause irreversible harm in our lives. But unfortunately, far too often, they go unnoticed. Our lives go unevaluated. As a result, we are lured by them away from true significance in our lives. And our greatest goals go unmet.”

    I’m twenty-five, and I feel like I’m right in the middle of a distracted generation. I have family and friends who seem to think a minimalist lifestyle is something “weird.” I think it’s a beautiful way to get back to enjoying simple things. I’m in the process of getting rid of “stuff,” and making small steps to focusing on what’s important in the moment. It is a challenge because it does require accountability for our actions, but I am seeing the rewards and the bigger picture is becoming clearer. :)

    Thank you for this post…

    -Stephanie

  16. Katrina says

    Thank you for this piece of insight! I went travelling this year and was slightly frustrated that I couldn’t get access to the Internet on my phone whenever I went. Turns out it was the best thing that happened to me during the trip. I was living in the moment and not distracted by social media.

  17. says

    All of the points you’ve made feel so relevant as we transition ourselves out of this “produce, produce!” industrial revolution mindset. I use the term “my head is full” a lot and feel guilty whenever I try to give myself time to reset. I am going to work on allowing myself some downtime. My guess is I’m not alone in my struggle.

    The points I will be sure to underscore and especially put into practice are Pause and Reflect, Moments of Solitude and Seek Inspiration.

    Thank you for the article (found via qwitr.org). It was very much needed.

  18. says

    I agree with this post. I’ve found myself engaging in technology to be able to function more thoughout the day. I recently purchased a new smart phone, and IPad. My intention is to be able to accomplish more thru my day, so I can disconnect when I’m not working.
    However, I can remember a time, not that long ago when all I did was read books and meditate on what was most important to me. People told me a needed to let go of some of that, so I’m going to try to find the balance in it all.
    But I still wonder from time to time, how did we ever survive or accomplish things before computors. lol
    Thank you Josh for continue to remind us where our focus needs to be.

  19. Tyler says

    Your article is a good one, but it doesn’t go far enough. Consider there are phenomenons in this world that are bona fide addictions. We scarcely call them that out of fear of an “addict” label, but they are definitely distractions from greater purpose.

  20. Shirly Oh says

    Hi Joshua, I have been following your work for sometime and recently I have been connecting with your writing on a different level. Every article seems to be directing to the challenges that I am facing right now and I am very grateful for your insights and tips. I love the opening quote – focus, deciding on the things that I am not going to do. I am a truly believer of minimalism and I applaud the great work you are doing. Thank you!

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