8 Reasons You’re Addicted to Distractions and How to Quit Today

You have rapidly approaching deadline. But all you can do is stay glued to Facebook. What’s the deal? Some may claim that you’re lazy or unmotivated. However, there’s probably a chance that you’re just distracted. And, believe it or not, it happens to us all. In fact, distractions are downright addicting. Here are some reasons you may be addicted to distractions.
1. Distractions handle internal struggles.
“Distractions are by-products of a problem,” says Kyle Cease, author of I Hope I Screw This Up: How Falling In Love With Your Fears Can Change the World. “Something outside of you is pulling you away from yourself or a goal. But the distraction is actually on the inside, and what’s going on outside matches what’s going on inside.”
Cease says that we invite distractions as way to handle the following internal struggles.
Covers fear.
Think about a presentation you have to give. You worry that you may throw-up. That thought is an internal distraction masking your fear.
“Immediately your ego shows up, saying ‘You’re not going to throw up,’ helping you with problem it created in the first place,” says Cease. “Instead, look at that fear as a thought passing through. The problem isn’t having the thought, it’s being resistant to the thought and feeling that you need to fix the thought.”
You’re insecure.
When you’re not feeling great about yourself, the harder it’s going to be to pursue goals. Seeking out distractions could mean that you have a lack of awareness of who you are.
“We grew up believing that who we are is what our parents think about us,” says Cease. “We tap-danced, performed, or whatever we had to do to get love, and we end up becoming characters, thinking that love comes from avoiding something or moving something or chasing something.”
Approval has to come from self-connection. “Believing that connection is something outside of yourself causes you to be disconnected,” says Cease.
It creates a sense of control.
“You can control what you do. People pace around, using circumstances outside of themselves as excuses not to step into their own ambitions. There is a lie that things outside of you run you.”
For example, blaming a co-worker or family member for interrupting you. Instead of pointing the finger, look for ways to avoid these distractions — like putting a do not disturb sign on your door.
2. Provides connections to other people.
Checking email, social profiles, or phone “allows us to see if anybody we care about is thinking of us,” writes Joanne Cantor, Ph.D. Despite the fact that “we have to wade through lots of spam to find out.”
“In fact, all that spam may make the allure even greater, because it sets up a partial reinforcement schedule. Research shows that partial reinforcement is much more resistant to extinction than a schedule that always yields rewards.”
To avoid these notifications, turn your phone on airplane mode or use an app like RescueTime. You can also place your phone across the room. And, try making a habit of only checking emails at specific times.
3. Overestimate the ability to multitask.
Technology itself shouldn’t be blamed for distractions. It’s actually tech-driven multitasking. Think about the person who walked into a wall or missed an important statement during a meeting. They probably had their faces glued to their phones.
Sometimes, this isn’t a concern. For example, you could watch the news while folding laundry. This is possible because it’s pretty much automatic.
However, we overestimate this ability to multitask. For instance, research has found that college students believe they can text and listen to a lecture simultaneously. This, of course, isn’t possible. This process has been the topic of numerous studies, and yet the rumor persists that a person can multitask.
“Multitasking while doing academic work — which is very, very common among young people — leads to spottier, shallower, less flexible learning,” states Annie Murphy Paul, writer at “The Brilliant Blog.”
Even more concerning is students don’t see this as a problem.
“Yes, we text in class, but if my grade in that class is and A or a B I don’t see why it’s a problem,” wrote one student to Paul.
The fact is, the human brain isn’t capable of multitasking. That’s because we have limitations on what we can pay attention to. Instead of multitasking focus on one thing at a time.
Additionally, you should also discover when you’re most productive. You may want to consider delegating or outsourcing simpler tasks to someone else.
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4. The top-down approach.
“Scientists have always recognized two different ways that the brain processes information coming from the outside world,” writes Heather Whipp for LiveScience. The first is willful focus. This is like when gazing at a piece of art. It “produces what are called ‘top-down signals.’
The second is automatic focus. This is “like when a wailing siren snaps you to attention. It produces ‘bottom-up’ signals.”
Researchers have found that top-down and bottom-up brain waves also bounce around in our heads at different frequencies. It’s similiar to different wavelengths along the points of a radio dial. This explains why people are so easily distracted.
“Anything that stands out as different from everything else — like a red apple in the middle of a green field — tends to grab your attention,” and kick in the bottom-up or automatic reaction, neuroscientist Earl K. Miller explains.
5. You’re focused too much on the present — and the future.
It’s normal to get consumed by both the present and future. However, there needs to be a healthy balance.
Let’s say that you’re a business owner and spotted a leaky pipe. Instead of fixing it properly because of the cost, you patch-it up. Ultimately, you’re going to do more damage and spend more money than if you did the job correctly in the first place.
Conversely, thinking too much about the future can have the same effect. If you’re obsessed with where your business will be in five years, you may not notice your current cash flow problems.
6. Provides a respite and re-stimulation.
“Creative work can be difficult and frustrating, and these distractions can provide a respite,” adds Dr. Cantor. “When you come up against a barrier to making progress, it’s so much easier to check out the latest events than to persevere on that difficult task.”
“The change to a new topic can re-stimulate our flagging attention,” says Dr. Cantor. “Our brains find it hard to focus on one thing for a long time. So-called controlled attention (e.g., working longer on our project) is much more difficult to maintain than stimulus-driven attention, (e.g., responding to alerts), and the brain needs regular breaks from difficult tasks.”
If not, “attention will wander naturally.”
7. Distractions are beneficial.
“Research shows that being distracted can improve creativity, memory and, paradoxically, focus,” writes Dr. Daniel Glaser, director of Science Gallery at King’s College London. “This is because when you concentrate, your brain ignores all irrelevant stimuli to narrow its attention.”
“A laser-like focus can develop your thinking on a single aspect of a problem, but it also restricts the range of neurobiological approaches that can be taken.” Experiments show people who “were given something to remember, and then some were exposed to a random distraction” were better at recalling information. They were also better at developing creative solutions.
8. You’re intelligent.
One study found that employees who get distracted could be more intellectually superior to their colleagues. The reason? They have a million ideas running through their minds.
However, clever individuals have a difficult time prioritizing these ideas. As a result, they may end up falling short of expectations.
“Employers are always on the lookout for the brightest people available,” explains Bostjan Ljubic, vice president of Steelcase, who published the research. However, “the difficulty to withstand multiple tasks and distractions in the office affects smart people in the same way as everyone else, if not more.”
Tips on Defeating Distractions
Distractions are inevitable. But, you can resistence the temptation by trying out these tips.
Schedule your day.
Know when you’re “in the zone.” This way you can schedule you most important or challenging tasks when you’re most productive. As an added perk, setting deadlines can keep you on-track.
Stay hydrated.
Dehydration can impair mental functioning, changes in mood, and reductions in concentration. It can also hinder alertness and short-term memory, according to research. So, drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Stop multitasking.
Again, multitasking isn’t effective. If you don’t have the willpower to ignore tech-related distractions, use tools. For instance, Q10 ditches the clutter on your desktop screen. StayFocused blocks websites that distract you.
You should also look into hiring a virtual assistant. Or, you may want to outsource of delegate other tasks like accounting.
Don’t let others distract you.
This can be challenging. But, a great place to start is by wearing headphones. Also think about working somewhere quiet and using trigger phrases and conversations.
Other tactics would be a do not disturb sign and establishing clear work hours. For example, if you work at home, then your family knows when not to disrupt you.
Breakdown tasks.
When you have a large task it’s easy to drift away. Motivate yourself by breaking the task down into smaller chunks. The Pomodoro Technique is excellent way for achieving this.
Train your brain.
There will be times when your brain will be your worst enemy. The good news? You can train your brain to defeat these internal distractions.
It can be as simple “paying attention to your attention.” Or, catching those wrong impulses before they grab attention. Sometimes all it takes is to just get started for momentum to takeover.
Also, eating right, getting enough sleep, exercise, and meditation can also boost focus. You can train yourself to take care of yourself so that you can accomplish the things that you want to.

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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