We live in an era of distraction. Never before has so much stimuli been so readily available and constantly present. Thousands of advertisements pass our eyes and ears every day. We impulsively check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the news….try to focus for 10 minutes, then do it all over again. We can no longer stand to be alone with our thoughts for even the shortest moment. We’ve become addicted to the rush of constant information. Our phones are the needle and we are the junkie.
This is the paradox of our modern age. We have access to more information than ever, yet we rarely think deeply and creatively enough to utilize it. “Big Data” has become the buzzword, when deep thought would likely accomplish much more. Our ability to think clearly and deeply has been undermined by distractions.
When you look at the incredible advances made in centuries past, it is humbling to think how many were done with relatively little information and communication. Some of the world’s greatest discoveries and achievements were the product of great minds thinking long and hard on creative solutions. I’m willing to bet that if some of these minds were here today, they’d be too muddled and confused by the barrage of stimuli to accomplish much of lasting good.
We think that we can manages our distractions. We tell ourselves that information is power. We try to quickly jump between short bursts of focus and distraction. We fail to be fully present as our ragged minds fight the FOMO (Fear of missing out). We feel busy, but we accomplish little.
What are we to do? Here’s a simple 5 step recovery plan for the information addict!
- Like any addiction, first you need to admit you have a problem. I know I do. I constantly struggle against the tendency to distract myself with random thoughts. I’m not saying you need to make a full time log. Rather, just commit to taking action and take the next step. This step is perhaps the easiest one.
- Once you come to grips with how real the issue is, it is time to quit cold turkey. Find the biggest time wasters in your life, be they social media, news websites, Youtube, etc. and limit your access to those. Here’s a few helpful tips:
- For many of us, our phones are our primary medium for distractions. Simply deleting an app from your phone may be enough to curb your habit. Not being able to habitually click on that familiar icon will be enough to make you think about the next time you start to waste time. I’m not saying you need to make one of those dramatic Facebook exits(I just distracted you….), just delete the app.
- If it is your web browser (preferably Chrome), install the StayFocused Chrome extension. This extension allows you to block certain sites during periods of the day and/or limit your visits for a certain time. As with any tool, it will help but ultimately the decision is up to you! This will make you think twice before you disable and go to that favorite time waster….
- Now that you’ve limited your access through practical ways, you need to make it through one week of withdrawals. Sound easy? Not so fast. You will suddenly be acutely aware of how often you hit up those time waster apps and sites. You’ll feel very uncomfortable all of the sudden while standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting at the doctor’s office. You will stare blankly at your screen at work trying to muster up the will to continue working on that spreadsheet or presentation while your brain cries for stimulus. It isn’t easy, but stick with it through one week!
- Once you make it through one week, something starts to shift. Now is your time to start thinking deeply. Suddenly, you won’t miss those apps and websites anymore. You’ll start being able to work for long stretches and accomplish more in an hour than you used to in a day. You’ll sit down to read a book and get thoroughly engrossed, enjoying and absorbing every page. Solutions will come to you as you ponder deeply, rather than Googling the quick fix. People will notice that you are more present and your relationships and charisma will improve because of it. The fog is lifting, and your life is changing.
- After two weeks, you should have pretty much detoxed from your distraction addiction. Now you need to decide what you want to do with your found time. With a clear mind, get quiet with a journal and a pen to think and pray about what is most important. This exercise itself would have been nearly impossible a few weeks ago, but the results are what will really change your time. Do you want to read two books a month? Have a daily quiet time with the Lord? Spend an hour each night alone with your spouse? Not only are you applying the time you were previously wasting, but your mind is going to be clear enough to fully engage and benefit from whatever you choose. This is where real change happens.
The areas of my life that have seen the most success are the areas where I have been forced to focus fully. School and work are perhaps the best examples. Being accountable to grades and objectives and applying the steady time will yield strong results. Other areas of my life that are left purely up to my discretion don’t always fare so well, but with God’s help I’m getting better!
We are tremendously blessed to live in this modern age. However, don’t let the much get in the way of the most. The rest of the world will keep spinning if you don’t read the news or scroll the ‘gram, and your world will only get that much better.