By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
A previous generation would marvel if they knew how many chirps, beeps and ring-tones virtually all of us encounter in a typical day. We would probably be astounded if we kept track of them all.
And, as we all know too well, it is not just work related.
How many of us have fitness trackers that buzz when we don’t move enough, or note our step-goal for the day?
Think any previous generation had “step-goals”?
I hate to even think of how many people have told me that they can’t read books any more – they don’t have the attention span.
They have become accustomed to short articles on social media – or even bite sized 140-character tweets.
An extended, sustained thought is a lost concept for too many of us.
Being distracted is not an isolated event for most of us – it is who we are and how we live.
Distractions aren’t always our fault, but managing them is our responsibility – if not the key to our mental survival.
How many of us are comfortable in silence – and by silence, I mean not only quiet, but not occupied at all – not reading, not scrolling through a screen, but just sitting. The trendy term for that is mindfulness.
But I don’t mean any particular system or discipline, I just mean sitting quietly, just taking in the atmosphere around you, and noticing nothing beyond the immediate.
If you are outside, consider the texture of the wind, the smells of flowers or plants nearby, the sound of birds – or bugs – or even lawnmowers – in the distance.
If you are inside, take note of your posture, the feel of your clothes or shoes or your furniture.
Or how about immersing, even losing yourself, night after night in a fictional world, past, present or future from a book that doesn’t flicker, chirp or need batteries?
Consider focused concentration as a muscle that, like every other muscle, grows weaker with lack of use and stronger with steady, if not challenging, use.
I have a friend who was going to visit her sister in a cabin in Colorado. She made a point of saying it was out of range for internet and cell service. For a week or so, she said it would be bliss. She didn’t say what it would be like for longer than that.
I love the internet. I do research and read and discover new things constantly. But sometimes I wonder what I, and all of us have become.
Besides perpetually distracted, that is.
Could any of us even manage life a century or so ago, long before our electronic devices claimed every waking moment? Could we even imagine the routines of our lives without our screens?
We don’t need screens to be distracted, of course.
So, let me start with a definition; distraction is “the process of interrupting attention” and “a stimulus or task that draws attention away from the task of primary interest.” (https://dictionary.apa.org/distraction)
In other words, distractions draw us away from what we want to do, whether it’s a task at home or work, time with a loved one, or something for ourselves.
A better term for “distract” might be “off-track.” Literally being pulled or pushed off our train of thought.
Back in the 1990s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book titled Flow. The premise was very simple, if not universal, we humans are most satisfied, if not productive and sometimes even inspired when we are in a state of uninterrupted focus – when we can have the relative luxury of precise concentration on an intellectually or physically satisfying task.
During flow, we can experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. We like what we do, and have an overwhelming sense that what we do matters. We might even have the sense that what we are doing is something that only we could do. We belong in the world; we belong where we are; we are needed.
We may or may not be “appreciated” – as in recognized or paid enough, but we know that our contribution is ours alone and no one else could do what we do – at least the way we can.
In this state, we find ourselves in the service of a larger vision, one that others may not see or value, and one that we ourselves might not fully grasp – yet.
The problem with flow is that it is difficult to find, easy to lose and impossible to explain to others.
Silence, boredom, even frustration can be the greatest motivators.
But chatter and distractions can derail even the greatest ideas.
Being busy is rarely the road to inspiration. Many times we find the best ideas, or the solutions to intractable problems in the most unlikely places and most unpredictable times.
I get many of my best ideas (or at least I think they are the best) in the middle of the night.
With more of us working from home, or on reduced or modified schedules, the solutions, work and commute habits of 2019 seem absurd, simplistic or irrelevant for those of us encountering the vagaries of 2020.
Those of us who can flex with the unexpected demands are learning more than we could have imagined possible.
Distractions disturb our flow, our unity between who we are and what we do.
I’ve seen too many books and articles on the divide and distinction between who we are and what we do or what some call life/work balance.
The whole premise of flow is the simple, elegant and elusive weaving of those two into moments, if not habits, of flow.
Ever know anyone who gets so lost in their task that they lose track of time, “forget” to eat or even sleep?
These people may (or may not) be geniuses, but they have, somehow, probably semi-accidently, found a reservoir, a center, a pulse of passion that both inspires, if not consumes, them and allows them, or maybe even compels them to create, to write, to invent what no one else could have.
We need those people, we need their creations; we need them to create what only they can create.
We need them to not be distracted.
We could see distractions, then, as a barrier, something literally keeping us from something we want – and maybe even need.
Unfortunately, for far too many of us, being distracted has become our “normal” – sustained focus – on anything – is too great of a challenge for us.
How many times have you caught yourself just “zoning” – scrolling through social media, staring at a screen without even knowing what you are watching?
Those are the moments (or even larger chunks of time) that I want to cut entirely out of my life.
If I feel like “zoning,” I want to get in the habit of not of facilitating it (which if you think about it, is almost always when I am feeling bored, overwhelmed, frustrated or somehow adrift and out of focus).
What I need to do is get out of that “space” not further into it. What I need to do is get less “distracted” and more “attracted” – more involved – and more connected with my original goal.
I need to get more engaged with what is in front of my IRL (in real life) and less “connected” in a digital sense.
I need to find, and stay in, my flow.
Who knows what brilliant idea any of us might encounter when we least expect it?