No doubt about it, there are many (too many) things to distract us these days. That’s the down side of distraction and not at all what I’m talking about. I’m here to defend distraction in some limited applications of real life. For instance… have you ever noticed that the answer to a problem comes only after you stop thinking about it? When you’re driving in traffic or doing dishes. Your body is busy but your mind isn’t needed, so it wanders.
And somehow finds its way to an answer you didn’t see coming.
My mother in law used to say she did her best thinking over a sink full of dishes. I heartily agree. From these distracted wanderings have come some of the best flashes of creativity I’ve ever known. Ideas for stories. Solutions to problems. Insights about people or past events. Flashes of inspiration. Popping into my thoughts as iif they were there all the time, just waiting for the chance to be tapped. Now research from Carnegie Mellon University finds the brain regions needed for making decisions stay active even when the conscious mind is distracted with something else.
Turns out this unpredictable process works just as well for techies as it does for creatives. Those unsung souls trying to solve tough problems only they will ever understand. They research alternatives and come up with brilliant solutions that hit unlikely roadblocks. Solutions come not during that long, hard day of thinking and talking and taking notes, but rather standing in line to get milk on the way home.
How amazing is that?
Distraction is also one of the best weapons I know to fight anxiety. If you stop focusing on your own internal feelings and let yourself be distracted by even the most mundane, ordinary things (colors, numbers, etc), you’ll be amazed what happens. Your panic dissolves like it never existed. That’s because, much as we think it’s possible, our minds cannot truly focus on two things at once. Things come fast, so it seems like they are sharing our attention, but if you really slow down and listen to these thoughts you’ll notice one thought precedes the other.
Distracting your anxious mind gives it something else to focus on. The more absorbing the distraction, the better. (On a personal note, as a lifelong anxiety prone person, this technique is the number one, hands down best way I know to stop panic in its tracks.)
Beyond helping you master a panic attack, the moments you spend focusing on the ordinary, often ignored world around you come with some pretty belief challenging insights. Time passes of course, but there’s more than this. Like the realization that not everyone (or anyone) is looking at you or sees a lack. Nobody cares what you’re doing (wearing, driving, etc), they are too busy doing their own thing, with their own worries. Some of which might be what YOU are thinking of THEM.
Mastering anxiety, giving a boost to creativity and making you more aware of the world around you… not bad for the much maligned distracted state. Just because technology keeps us plugged in and updated doesn’t mean we’re accountable for every second of every day. Allow distraction to have its way once in a while… see where it gets you.
It might be someplace really cool.