Stop Distraction (Before It’s too Late)
Distraction is Ruining You
I am not always proud of what I consume. This lack of pride usually happens on my YouTube sprees. I can watch video after video, not of any importance, and fall into the spiral of the YouTube algorithm. This isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes, I just need to kick back, not think, and mindlessly watch YouTube videos. But, these sprees happened too often. I found myself doing this almost every night, and I knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t realize how bad it was. In short, this habit is simply a distraction.
Whether I am distracting myself from doing homework, writing, or from the realization that I place my identity in the hands of society, it doesn’t help me: in fact, all it does is keep me from becoming a better me.
But to understand why distraction is so detrimental to my growth, it is essential to understand where it stems from.
Your Ego Drives Distraction
Distraction is a helpful tool in avoiding those situations which you don’t really want to be in. As a socially anxious person, those examples come first hand. It often happens at the grocery store. I will see someone I kind of know but don’t really know (e.g., a teacher), and I will immediately take on the mission of “escape from this situation ASAP!” This is uncomfortable, sometimes unbearably so. But there is an easy way out of it.
Whip out your phone! Immediately, you are swept away to another world. You can be in Bali or maybe your ‘friend’s’ birthday party. Wherever you are, you aren’t in the present. Immediately, you swipe the discomfort out from under you. Also, now that you’re on the phone, you can appear busy and the person you see will be less likely to approach you. Isn’t that great?
Maybe it is great in the moment, but what is more concerning is why you did it. In an uncomfortable situation, your ego did what it does best: protect you from the feeling of inadequacy.
When you are presented with an uncomfortable situation, such as a social interaction for me, your ego employs distraction so that you can keep thinking that you’re great. Ryan Holiday, an author influenced by Stoic philosophy, describes the role of the ego: “Too often, convinced of our own intelligence, we stay in a comfort zone that ensures that we never feel stupid… It obscures from view various weaknesses…” (105). The ego keeps us in that comfort zone that keeps us thinking that we have nothing to learn. Of course, in the short term, it feels great to escape uncomfortable situations. It’s Skinner’s negative reinforcement at play: you escape from your negative thoughts that you aren’t as good as you think you are.
However, over time, the distraction the ego employs can keep us within a box that both restricts our growth and keeps us ignorant.
Distraction Restricts Growth
According to the modular-mind model, our mind is made of modules that all vie for our attention. Some of these modules are ‘good’: they tell us to work and think about long-term goals. Others are ‘bad’: they tell us to go on TikTok and seek societal affirmation through garnering likes on our latest Instagram post. But, these modules can be strategic (in the sense that non-sentient modules can be strategic).
We don’t have to look far to see their strategies. Think of the last time you were doing some strenuous work. You get to a part in which you don’t know what to do. This most often happens to me while I am trying to write code for a complex computer-programming problem.
You become uncomfortable that you don’t know what to do. And what happens? You check your phone, or at least you think you should check it. Or maybe you think that you should take a break and then walk away from the work and don’t come back. I am in no way advocating that we don’t take breaks. But, let’s analyze what went on here from a modular-mind perspective.
You became uncomfortable with the task you needed to do, so the module that was offering a comfortable task (such as checking TikTok) won out. Even if that comfortable task isn’t good for you in the long term, your mind finds a way to escape discomfort and distract yourself from the problem you face.
This is detrimental. Facing and overcoming challenges are essential for growth, both in the field you face those challenges in and for your character. Being thrown around by distraction simply prevents you from facing what you most need: a reminder of your ignorance.
Distraction Keeps Us From Realizing What Really Matters
The 70/20/10 rule argues that we should spend 70% of our time resting, 20% training, and 10% producing. I am guilty of not taking this seriously. As much as I would like to think that I spend too much time working and that I should spend more time resting, the reality is that I lose so much time to simply not doing either. Where does this time go? Distraction.
The 70/20/10 rule reminds us that we must act with purpose. If something doesn’t go towards a purpose in our life, whether that be relationships, learning, our work, or something else, we shouldn’t do it. Do I have a good reason to waste so much time on YouTube? No.
Furthermore, life is about living, not doing ( a maxim I picked up from Ryan Holiday). We must live in the now to truly live our lives. Otherwise, we might get to those last minutes and regret all that time we wasted mindlessly scrolling through social media when we could have spent that time with a purpose.
The Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright