Are You Distracted?

Can you believe the pictures that exist on Pixabay? I promise I’m not distracting you…or maybe I am?

Everything is trying to take away our precious time.

The internet and social media. Family and friends. Dishes. Lunch. Bills. That delicious tub of boysenberry ice cream in the freezer. The book that just arrived in your mailbox. The books in your bookshelf, calling your name, begging Read me! Read me! in an insolently nasal accent. Work. Zoom sessions. Grocery shopping. Perusing the latest news that You Season 3 will be out in October and predicting what will happen on Twitter and Reddit and random messageboards and to the neighbourhood bin chicken. When our time is all we’ve got, what happens when we’ve got none left to spare?

Back in May, I blogged about our deteriorating ability to focus in the current attention economy. The attention economy being “the business model of keeping our eyes glued to the specific apps and sites maintained by those with vested interests who do not care about our health and wellbeing” is one of the many things in life distracting us from using our time the way we want to, in our best interests.

We run to our comfort apps and websites, the ones who soothe us from uncomfortable thoughts, from focusing on one thing at a time, because over such a short period of time, we have become unaccustomed to not doing everything all at once. To being in the present.

This is about algorithms hijacking our brains and rewiring our neural circuitry. Sure, it can be fixed, but it takes a lot of effort, and most people are frightened of change. Of sitting with discomfort. Anyone with anxiety can understand that it’s not a simple task to just sit there, with no stimuli and nothing to distract and self-soothe, and just let your thoughts be.

This is about distraction. Of course it can still be about the attention economy, because no matter how much we think we’re immune from the powerful bleeps and bloops of our computer and phone screens…nobody is immune. Algorithms designed by behavioural psychologists and ethicists and experts in brain hijacking will always know how to manipulate the millions of billions of neurons and synapases that make us us. Unless you’re the nonexistent minority of people who have time travelled from a hypothetical cyberpunk transhumanist dystopia, then all the little quirks and tools employed by companies way more powerful than you will always work in their better interest and against your better interest.

As many of us have learned in the last year and a half, distraction is easy. For those cooped up at home, working and studying and communicating via Zoom calls and Google Hangouts and Facebook chats, distraction is welcoming and self-soothing and encompassing. Even for those not stuck at home all the time, being face-to-face with the modern Spanish flu and within one wrong step from an exposure site that could change your life forever, distraction is welcoming and self-soothing and encompassing.

Even good distractions can distract from what you’re meant to be doing. Say you’re in the midst of writing your 150,000 word Sando Bronderson-inspired fantasy epic, and you’re actually writing. You’ve written a solid 2,000 words, and you’re aching for the detailed scene where Saddo Bloggins actually gets a chance with his half-dragon love interest, when you get a message. Check out this “Cat meowing at owner” compilation. Aww. Sure to put a smile on your face. It’s been a bit bleak lately, and cats always put a smile on your dial. Maybe your kid wants to show you her macaroni artwork she designed with tonight’s pasta and a tub of glitter that’s now littered all over the lounge room carpet. Your Siamese jumped up on the recliner and wants a pat. Your mother in law’s at the door with a desire to spring clean every centimetre of the house, even though you specifically tidied yesterday so you’d have today to devote to writing.

Obviously some of these are more pressing, but for the less necessary tasks, when we succumb to the weaselly siren call of Sir Distraction, little by little, we weaken our resolve and self-control. For every task we cut off midway, every important thing we procrastinate for a quick three-hour binge on r/news that leaves us more exhausted than ever before, we’ve lost more precious seconds of our lives and Lady Time is trying to tell us to stop wasting more, look, there’s the tick tick tick of the analogue clock and the sudden passing of hours after said three hour binges on pointless political subreddits that don’t really add much to our lives.

Regardless of whether you choose Distraction or the activity that truly brings you joy—these can chop and change depending second by second—the temptation to walk away from your original intention and react to the circumstances of the moment leads us further away from what needs to be done, what will make us happiest in the end. And we won’t be happiest if we’ve spent the sheer majority of our lives scrolling social media sites that probably won’t matter in a decade, but by doing the things that brings us true joy and pure bliss, we will be happy, we will remember with a wry smile. Maybe one day that might be carving out intricate worldbuilding of your latest fantasy epic, and others it might be using tonight’s macaroni to make beautiful fridge artworks with your kids and deciding later Fuck it, let’s order in tonight! Spur of the moment joys are welcome especially for those in the middle of trying times or challenging lockdowns.

It’s time to actively start deciding where to spend our time—intentional living at its finest. Even with everything pulling us in different directions, Distraction doesn’t always have to win. Of course, sometimes, when we are at our wits end or just need an hour to kill time, it’s not affecting much. But if time is passing you by in a blur of months and years and millennia (for all you lich reading this), it’s time to start asking,

Why?

Why?

Maybe you have a reason for distracting yourself that lies beyond the whims and calculations of those in the attention economy.

Why?

Depression, anxiety, discomfort, fear of the new and the unknown, are all reasons to avoid what must be done, what has to be done.

Why?

Write down what you’re thinking. Start simple. You can write a positivity journal; at the end of the day, write down three things that made you happy, made you proud. They can be spur of the moment joys or pre-planned positives. If you’re religious, pray. If you’re spiritual, meditate. Throw your phone across the room (with your tempered glass screen protector on, hopefully), slam your laptop shut dramatically, and stop reading this blog post if it’s a cause for your distraction. To slay Sir Distraction and his wily charms, the best solution is to ask,

Why?

and pierce that villainous foe in the heart, stop it right in its tracks, and sit with the discomfort of not having 138 tabs open and your mind in a chaotic maelstrom and just shut it right up, okay, because that’s all—

3 comments

  1. Varuni Fernando · August 31, 2021

    I love that you encourage writing. As a counselor, I try to get so many of my clients to start writing – just a few words, with not much success. But those who do, they are the once that leave psychotherapy the soonest.

    • Jessica Grixti Stanley · September 1, 2021

      Agree! Writing down your thoughts (handwriting, typing, recording your voice, whatever floats your boat) will always help, because once the words are on the page and out of your head, it makes the next step that much easier. Enjoyed your latest post—keep up the good work 😊

      • Varuni Fernando · September 1, 2021

        Thank you, Jessica..🙏

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