Do any of the following statements apply to you?
- I get distracted easily.
- I procrastinate because I get distracted.
- I make plans but don’t follow through on them.
- I don’t prioritize my tasks and end up avoiding things that are important.
If you face any of these problems, you’re not alone.
Don’t blame yourself, blame your brain. Or rather, your “reactive brain.”
Before we reveal the things you can do to resist distraction, let’s get a deeper understanding as to why we get distracted so easily and the role our reactive brain plays in keeping us distracted.
What is Reactive Brain?
You are not lazy, but your brain is.
Research shows that even in our free time we often don’t do what we enjoy most — we do what is easy. Your brain doesn’t want to waste energy. So it’s always a bit lazy.
Your lazy brain is happy to just react to the stimuli coming its way. But when you just react, you don’t usually make the best decisions. And while you’re definitely getting things done, you’re rarely achieving your goals.
That’s because when you’re reacting, you’re not in control of your life. In fact, reacting is the opposite of control. You see something fun and you chase it. You see something scary and you run away.
Bottom line: Your environment is determining your behavior.
How to Avoid Distraction: 4 Proven Techniques
1. Control Your Context
Brian Wansink, the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, believes that we overeat not because we are hungry, but because of the context we are in. In other words, most of us eat how much we eat largely because of what’s around us.
In his research, Wansink found that people ate half as much when they simply moved the candy dish off their desk and placed it six feet away.
We can apply the same principle to avoid distraction and to get things done.
If you’re about to do an important task, put your phone or any other distraction in some other room. Make distractions harder to reach.
When you have fewer things to react to, you reduce your chances of getting distracted.
2. Stay Calm
Just pause for a second and reflect. Before you start doing the difficult task at hand, pause for a moment, and take a deep breath. Don’t get stressed. Stay calm.
Albert J. Bernstein, a clinical psychiatrist, says staying calm is key to making good decisions in the heat of the moment.
According to research, stress has a negative impact on your prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain. In other words, stress makes you do irrational things and make stupid decisions.
So the key to function well without distractions is to not get stressed but to stay calm under pressure. If you’re having trouble coping with stress, you can try these meditation techniques or these simple yoga poses. Not big on yoga or meditation? Try mindful walking.
3. Think About Your Goals
Think about the most important thing you need to do and label it as such. This is where the practice of mindfulness can help you.
Joseph Goldstein, a leading expert in Mindfulness and the author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening, has this to say:
“Where is this action leading? Do I want to go there? This thought which has arisen, is it helpful? Is it serving me or others in some way or is it not? Is it just playing out perhaps old conditions of fear or judgment or things that are not very helpful for ourselves or others?”
Neuroscience agrees with this assessment. Thinking about your long-term goals when you’re tempted by distraction gives your brain a sense of control and can release dopamine which will make you feel better and more motivated.
4. Make A Deliberate Decision
Make a decision not to give in to distractions. This may sound too easy to be true, but neuroscience shows pausing and taking the time to make a decision actually helps stop you from engaging in bad behavior.
Alex Korb, a renowned neuroscientist and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, has this to say:
“When the prefrontal cortex is taken offline by stress we end up doing things that are immediately pleasurable. Instead of getting overwhelmed, ask yourself, “What’s one little thing that I could do now that would move me toward this goal I’m trying to accomplish?” Taking one small step toward it can make it start to feel more manageable.”
To summarize, here’s how to stay focused and avoid distractions:
- Control your context: Put your phone away. You can’t indulge in your fun distraction if it’s far away.
- Stay calm: Stress makes you stupid. Stay calm.
- Think about your goals: Be mindful of your long-term goals. Think about them when you notice yourself getting distracted.
- Make a deliberate decision: Just take a decision not to get distracted. This will make you resist distraction.
Hope you found the article useful. Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Nov 7, 2016 and has been updated regularly since then for relevance and comprehensiveness.