How to Avoid Distraction and Get your Focus Back on Studies
How to avoid distraction is an age old question. People have climbed high mountains to stay alone only to avoid distraction and stay focused. So how to we solve the problem about distraction?
What is Distraction?
Distraction is an addiction, although most of us would not agree. However, consider this scenario. We are sitting down for studies or finishing our latest blog that we have been planning for sometime or simply completing the calculation of our monthly bills when suddenly we remember we haven’t seen the latest episode of our favorite serial on Netflix. Our friends were raving about last evening.
We cannot keep our hands away from our laptop or phone even if it is simply to watch it for a couple of minutes. We realize the need to avoid distraction and stay focused. We will watch in fast forward mode we convince ourselves. But sometime later when we remember the reason we had set aside the couple of hours, we realize we have put in that time to watch the serial. This scenario is so common. The distraction could be our emails, or Whatsapp or Youtube or our favorite game or _______ name your favorite distraction here. The work we want to do is kept aside for later and kept on being put off until it becomes an emergency.
I guess the above example is enough to understand that we look forward to our distractions and are willing to give up our important work or delay them so we can cosy-up with distractions. We hardly recognize the fact that we are truly addicted to them and we do not know how to avoid distraction and stay focused.
Why Do We Get Distracted? Comfort Zones.
Nir Eyal (author of the book Hooked) says that we are usually distracted because of our comfort zones and our habit of staying inside them. There are external and internal triggers that distract us. External triggers include our phones, the doorbell, email, and television. Even a television that has not been turned on will distract us with its presence. Internal triggers are feelings like hunger, cold, stress etc. With these triggers all around us how to we avoid distraction and stay focused?
Barbara Oakley, the author of ‘A Mind for Numbers’ says something similar. She calls Eyal’s triggers as cues and cues make us procrastinate the work we would like to do by reminding us of other stuff that we find comfortable doing. Accordingly to Oakley if we want to stop procrastination then we should get out of our comfort zone. Trying something new is not comfortable. Even breaking a bad habit or simply trying to finish what we started is uncomfortable. There is a strong desire to escape discomfort. The easiest escape is the small chores. Checking messages or emails. Watching small videos.
Avoid Hard Work or Avoid Distraction
Talking about comfort zones, Dr Daniel Kahneman the author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, writes in his book that if we are doing something that may be necessary but requires us to think more than usual, then we start feeling uncomfortable. Dr Kahneman has elaborated this in his book through various experiments he and his colleagues conducted. He says that instead of applying our mind on complex calculations we would rather give up and find something easy to do. In other words we cannot avoid distraction because our brain is crying out for us to find something easier or something more pleasurable to do.
Unfortunately, abstaining from your desire will distract you even more and the reward of getting to it ultimately becomes stronger. Nir Eyal quotes Dr. Jonathan Bricker, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle who has developed techniques to reduce and avoid distraction through behavioral changes.
Also Read: Tackling the Forgetting Curve
Fred Hutchinson says you should become self aware. Identify the trigger or reason to become distracted. Why do you feel distracted? Maybe, you are not qualified for the job at hand or it confuses or overwhelms you. Dr. Bricker recommends writing down our anxieties, what we think is causing the distraction internally or externally, and what time did it happen. Keep a log of our activities and our distractions. The time we were distracted and the time we were able to focus and why. Also observe the sensations that precede such distractions and urges.
How to Focus Your Mind?
‘If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail’. Eyal nicely modifies this popular phrase to ‘If you don’t plan your day. Someone else will!’ There are many potential distractions already existing to take us away from our important work. These potential distractions may succeed if we do not plan our day or in other words we do not prioritize.
Eyal proposes converting values into time. Many of us value family, health, friends etc. However, we don’t allocate enough time for them. If you value something then you should definitely make time for it. Maybe you would like to become a great parent, but you don’t allocate quality time to your kid. The goal according to Eyal is eliminating any free time. Which does not necessarily mean not giving yourself free time, but it means that you plan your free time too. Thus leaving no time for other things to avoid distraction.
Eyal’s book “Hooked” states that the things that distract us are able to do it because they reward us in certain ways. Email, Social Media and Gaming are designed to give us rewards for our efforts. Social Media gives you content based on your interests, games give you levels and Email gives you answers to suspense about what is new or your friend’s message in your inbox. You can use this to reward yourself when you actually sit through a time based plan. If you sit for half hour of work, then you could reward yourself a five minute social media break. If these breaks are not manageable then meditate or do breathing exercises, before getting back to work.