It is common to talk about “distractions” these days. I think it was Leo Babauta who first introduced me to the idea. And ever since, I have tried to further the conversation:
- Finding Significance in an Age of Distraction
- Nine Ever-Present Distractions That Keep Us From Fully Living
- Ten Unconventional Habits to Live Distraction-Less
Distractions in life are not unique to our generation—but they are certainly more prevalent today than they’ve ever been.
The Internet, cell phones, television, and the speed at which technology advances and information flows has created an environment where distractions surround us every moment of the day—literally, from the moment we wake up to the moment we shut our eyes at night. It’s important to note this is by design.
I know this to be true because distractions, in my life, are as pervasive as anywhere else.
Distractions, for the sake of this article, refers to anything that keeps our attention and energy from things that matter in the long run. Video games, television shows, trivial information, all come to mind.
But there are other things in life that fit the definition above. Pursuits, that in the right context, are perfectly healthy, but can become distractions. Following the news is healthy, unless it keeps us from more important work. Answering work email is important, but not if it cuts into time we should be spending with our family. Spending time on social media can be a valuable opportunity to connect with friends and loved ones, but not if it consumes too many hours of our day.
This, then, is what I’ve been thinking about lately.
The greatest danger of entertaining distractions, it seems, is the temptation and likelihood of them becoming a lifestyle.
When a distraction becomes a lifestyle, we lose intentionality over the life we are living. (tweet that)
Of course, very few distractions begin as a lifestyle. At first, they are simply fun and unique and interesting. We enjoy the new game, the new television show, the new hobby, or the new website. We like the new phone, the new store, or the new idea that could become the new money-making opportunity in life.
Some things we are drawn to quicker than others. But for the most part, the new shiny object is just a welcome distraction from the hard task of living life.
Slowly, however, the new distraction begins to take more time and more energy from us. We get better at it, or more invested into it, or find increased enjoyment in it. We begin to make slight accommodations to partake in it even more.
Soon, we rationalize why it’s good to do even more of it. We steal a few extra minutes here or there to enjoy it. But the number of hours in the day never change. So eventually, we start to sacrifice the most important things in order to indulge ourselves even more into the distraction. Before we know, it has become a way of life, not a welcome detour from it.
The distraction has now become a lifestyle… and we have lost some sense of intentionality over the life we are living because of it.
Sometimes we recognize this right away and course correct. But other times, years are wasted, relationships are lost, and purpose is slowly, subtly frittered away.
This should be a greater concern to us than we usually consider it to be.
What do we do when this has become the case? How do we respond when distractions have become our masters rather than our servants?
First, we need to be vigilant in self-examination. We ought to frequently sit quietly with ourselves examining the trajectory of our life and the distractions that keep us from being the best version of ourselves.
Second, we need to verbally articulate what distractions are keeping us from our best work, keeping us from those we love the most, or keeping us from fulfilling our highest purpose. As I mentioned before, these distractions may not always be unhealthy on the surface—but if they have spilled into places they do not belong, they may become so.
Third, be vigilant and intentional in removing them. This can be difficult and requires moments of wrestling within ourselves. But learn to fight.
And lastly, it is important to remind ourselves of the value of the most important duties in front of us. Your most important work will never be the easiest—in fact, it will probably be the hardest thing you ever do. Being an intentional parent, loving spouse, faithful employee, good boss, or selfless member of a community is never the easiest road to travel. But in the long run, there is more joy and happiness to be found there than anywhere else.
Distractions don’t get to define you. You get to define you.
Craft a life focused on things that matter by keeping in check everything that doesn’t.