3 F-Words to Destroy Distraction

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Lamborghinis, McLarens, and other exotic cars grab all the glory. Sleek, low to the ground. They speed across smooth, well-paved roads like the autobahn.

I’m not sure how your roads are, but here in New York City, the roads aren’t smooth and gentle.

Cobblestone. Potholes. Torn up asphalt. (Not-so-) neighborly cars bump, ding, smash, and dent those fancy paint jobs.

The exotic cars attract attention to themselves. All eyes on them.

But it’s the unglamorous tractors that pull the weight to break up the hard ground, to sow seed, to harvest the crops.

You know, serve others. It’s the beast of burden that’ll drag fancy cars out of the mud.

The tractor sports scrapes and dings from fieldwork as badges of honor.

The opposite of distraction is not focus. It’s not productivity.

You could be hyper-focused, crazy fast, super production … going in the wrong direction. And in the end that focus could send you hurtling into distraction.

The opposite of distraction is traction. And traction requires three things: Friction, Force, Formation.

Too little of those and you’re stuck. Too much and you’re spinning out of control.

As in the field, we need these three elements in our lives to defeat distraction as well. Especially with the off-road conditions we’re living through these days.

1. Friction —

Sometimes we feel stuck. Inertia. Mud and muck.

But we need to recognize that it’s that very friction that can help us get that first step in. The friction gives us a foothold to exert momentum.

Often, the friction is our mental state. “I’m too tired … too busy … too poor … too old … too young … too depressed … too _etc._!” And it’s frighteningly easy to drown in that morass.

You can break the spell quickly but you must be aware of it first. Listen to that inner dialogue.

“Why am I feeling this way?” Being self aware is not being selfish.

It is being sure you bring the best to people in your life. It’s making sure you don’t leak out your issues and make destructive friction.

Thoughts are not truth. Emotions are not reality.

A minimum effective dose of movement can spark a fresh insight. A few minutes can work wonders. Physically move.

Do something, anything, that gets your body moving, your heart rate up. High knees, jumping jacks, pushups. It doesn’t take long.

The posture of our bodies links with our mental condition to fire off the signal, “Ok, we’re moving, we’re in motion.” And it primes our hearts and opens our thoughts to see past oppressive lies sneaking through our minds.

That’s how I’m wired. But for you, a spark could be prayer and meditation. Could be that you’re actually hungry (but are you really?) — or much more likely, thirsty.

I know others find blasting worship music or singing a meaningful song resets their souls. I have a friend who jumps in the shower because that’s where he can drop all distractions and think best.

Sometimes I’m just not getting enough sleep and a power nap (25-30min,) is a game-changer. Even a quick walk outside can overcome the friction for me.

Figure out your spark plug. And use it.

Just like a tractor needs a spark to get that fuel firing. We don’t just expect that spark to happen by luck.

2. Force —

This begins with seeing our identity clearly. But it’s more specific.

It’s about translating your identity into the story you live into each day. It’s also the way we fight off the lies and resistance that often cause us to default to distractions — because distraction is the easier way than to plow into the work.

“You’re not good enough.” “You always fail.” “No one will like your work.” “Everyone else does it better.”

That’s not your true story. That’s not who you’re really becoming.

The good news is that the truth is usually hidden just on the other side of the lies.

“You’re good enough.” “Be. Not. Afraid.” “People need and enjoy your work.” “Your work is singular and unique.”

Force is the torque of courage and endurance to bear weight and turn our gears.

For me it begins with faith and how I relate to people in my life. For you it might be family, or philanthropy, or public service.

3. Formation —

You need to formulate a plan and system for your mission. Weigh the budget, constraints, size, weight, deadlines.

You know. Things like, you’d better harvest before the frost kills your entire crop, etc.

These limits feel like they dampen my fun. But really nebulous projects feed my unhealthy FOBO (Fear Of Better Options).

It’s these boundaries that really help elevate design and identify problem-solving opportunities.

Formation gives shape to your tire treads that adds friction to force, and multiples that into work done.

Otherwise you could head in this direction or that and never really get anywhere.

You’ve got seeds to plant, fields to harvest. Come wind, rain, or storms, you keep doing the work, day in and day out.

This enables us to persevere no matter what grit and rubble and potholes litter our road.

What works for you to combat distraction? What are some tactics that help you show up like a tractor?

by Samantha Harris, UT Austin

New research indicates that our cognitive capacity is reduced whenever our phones are within reach—whether it’s turned on or off.

Adrian Ward and coauthors conducted experiments with nearly 800 smartphone users in an attempt to measure, for the first time, how well people can complete tasks when they have their smartphones nearby, even when they’re not using them.

In one experiment, the researchers asked study participants to sit at a computer and take a series of tests that required full concentration in order to score well. The tests were geared to measure participants’ available cognitive capacity—that is, the brain’s ability to hold and process data at any given time.

Before beginning, participants were randomly instructed to place their smartphones either on the desk face down, in their pocket or personal bag, or in another room. All participants were instructed to turn their phones to silent.

The researchers found that participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.

The findings suggest that the mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning, even though people feel they’re giving their full attention and focus to the task at hand.

“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” says Ward, an assistant professor at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process—the process of requiring yourself to not think about something—uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain,” Ward says.

In another experiment, researchers looked at how a person’s self-reported smartphone dependence—or how strongly a person feels he or she needs to have a smartphone in order to get through a typical day—affected cognitive capacity.

Participants performed the same series of computer-based tests as the first group and were randomly assigned to keep their smartphones either in sight on the desk face up, in a pocket or bag, or in another room. In this experiment, some participants were also instructed to turn off their phones.

The researchers found that participants who were the most dependent on their smartphones performed worse compared with their less-dependent peers, but only when they kept their smartphones on the desk or in their pocket or bag.

Ward and his colleagues also found that it didn’t matter whether a person’s smartphone was turned on or off, or whether it was lying face up or face down on a desk. Having a smartphone within sight or within easy reach reduces a person’s ability to focus and perform tasks because part of their brain is actively working to not pick up or use the phone.

“It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” says Ward. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.”

Source: University of Texas at Austin. Original Study This piece was originally published on Futurity.