Distractions hamper our habits, mess with our memory, and can steal our joy. That’s the bad news. The good news is we can manage distractions with a new habit!
The real culprit of getting off track with habits or why we walked into a room is our response to internal and external stimuli. Distractions aren’t really the problem, how we manage them is. Our phone beeps or buzzes, someone needs something from us, we see or hear something that triggers a memory and our focus falls off the rails.
But distractions aren’t all bad. Think of someone yelling to move as a car approaches you in the crosswalk. Good distraction prompting needed action. But the social media feed pulling us from being present or accomplishing goals? Bad distraction causing a loss of focus.
Limiting bad or unwanted distractions is something I’ve been teaching for years at MemoryMinders. We can’t remember well if we don’t focus and pay attention. And that’s impossible if we don’t manage distractions. Here’s a post with tips on improving concentration.
But as I created courses on God Time and Habits, distractions were also on my radar. Many of us feel they’re a stumbling block to quality God time and creating healthy habits, myself included. I can’t even get through the Lord’s Prayer at times without my thoughts wandering! But there is hope.
Distractions can be managed, but it’s a continual effort-like pulling weeds. We hack back all the distractions but more pop up! The key is to manage distractions with a habit using association and planning.
A New Habit for Distractions
When distractions arise, it’s important to notice them. But instead of allowing them to take us off track, make a physical and mental note to deal with it later. Associate this action with a word that makes sense to you-like the word later. It’s kind of like an out of office email auto-responder. Here’s an example:
- While writing, other ideas or distractions often come into my mind. But instead of stopping my work to explore that idea, I write it down and mentally think-later. Then once my work is done, or when I have time, I manage my curated list of “later”. In order to do this however, I also must plan this “later” time on my schedule.
What about when others interrupt us? Put up a hand and say “later” to them? Yes-in a nicer way. Children especially need to learn patience, and this can be a helpful way to teach this skill. Today’s instant gratification environment encourages immediate answers. But a simple reply of acknowledgement of their question, issue, etc. and we’ll respond when finished with our task is how we put their distraction onto our “later” list. It helps us to stay on track and them to feel heard. Here’s an example:
- I’m working or cooking dinner and a friend or family member interrupts me (or multiple people do at the same time). I gently point out I’m doing something and ask if it can wait and/or when they need me to respond. If it’s an emergency or timely, I stop as soon as I can. If not, I tell them when I’ll be able to help soon. Then, I mentally note when I will do this “later”.
Try this habit of associating your distractions into a “later” list. Here’s a quick summary:
- Plan for a time of focus (a healthy habit, working, etc.) and commit to not being distracted.
- When distractions arise: notice, acknowledge, and associate by making a physical and mental note (think later) and/or verbally expressing you will respond soon.
- Plan time to respond and/or deal with your “later” list.
Often, I’ve found those “later” items aren’t as interesting as originally thought and/or what others needed can be accomplished or at least started without us.
To summarize this in habit speak: the cue is the distraction, the routine is the acknowledgement, association, and plan to deal with the distraction, and the reward is better focus on what matters to us!
Try turning your distractions into a later habit and see if it helps you manage them better. For more details on habits, see the Creating Habits that Stick course. Managing distractions as a habit has worked for me, but just like any habit, it takes repetition to function well.
Don’t let distractions steal your joy, hamper your habits, or mess with your memory. Manage them by creating the habit of later instead!
Happy to link up with Crystal’s #HeartEncouragement