NoiseThe Law of Attraction (and Distraction)

Categories: Mindfulness
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Published on: December 23, 2014

Too much noise

Understanding the True Lesson of the Law of Attraction

No, this post is not going to be about the law supposedly exposed in The Secret, or its truths or lies or proofs and beliefs. What I’m talking about more is not the “law” or the “attraction”, but the compulsion and the distraction, and what they mean for us in everyday life. And maybe there will be a connection to belief in the end.

So, let’s start with distraction.

I mentioned a few days ago with regret my inability to keep posting on this blog for months. I was busy, as I mentioned, but that alone doesn’t matter to this blog and probably is only peripherally relevant to you. Whether my busyness is a good reason or a worthless excuse, the bottom line is that despite my intentions, I stopped posting.

So why did I stop posting? The reason was not so specific as “I got a new job” or “I bought a house”; it wasn’t even as specific as “I was just generally very busy”. The reason was so general that it does not deserve to be considered a reason, but more a condition or mitigating factor. And that condition was “distracted”.

Distraction is not something unique to me, either acutely or, in this case, a condition that prevents my posting for nearly two years. We all get distracted, most often when we’re doing something that does not capture our full attention, and then something else comes along. You may be working and get distracted by music that you’re listening to. You may be walking down the street and be distracted by an attractive stranger. You may be attempting to read a book and be distracted by someone talking.

These acute distraction events happen to everyone and, for the most part, are not devastating or harmful. However, the three scenarios reflect different impacts of distraction. In the case of your work, chances are good you still get it done or, at the worst, you’ll turn off the music. Being distracted while traveling or moving can be a little more dangerous, but unless you crash or trip while admiring the stranger, you still get to your destination.

When it comes to reading the book, I’ve found that frequent distractions frustrate me to the point that I will put it down. If I keep getting distracted every time I pick it up, it will not get read. And reading books is not the only situation where something gets utterly derailed by distraction, for example: this blog. I can claim busyness or specific distractions were involved, but the reason the blog was abandoned was that I was continuously distracted.

Can we unpack distraction to examine it?

I mentioned distraction as really the interplay of two things:

  1. You are doing something that does not capture your full attention
  2. Something else comes along

We’re always doing something. You can’t understand the human condition as a passive concept without considering the activities we fill our lives with. More to the point, about half of the ways you can come up with to describe yourself involve action. If you’re a lawyer, it’s because you went to law school and studied hard. If you are strong and athletic, it’s because you worked out or practiced a sport. If you’re wise and patient, it’s because (at least in part) you have experienced passions and emotions and have learned to balance them with concern.

But I have to believe that, as in the three scenarios I mentioned above, some activities are more distractible than others. Work isn’t at terrible risk from distraction by music because you are under pressure to complete the work, and the music can easily be shut off. When moving or traveling, you are more or less prone to distraction depending on how dangerous it is to be doing that activity while distracted. Finally, being distracted from reading or writing partly depends on how long you will need to continue the activity before achieving its result.

So, it looks like three factors to determine how likely an activity is to be distracted from:

  1. How much pressure you are under to complete the activity
  2. How dangerous the activity is to perform while distracted
  3. How immediate or long-term the activity takes in order to achieve its result

What about the “something else”?

The counter-balance to what you are doing is what comes along. As with the three activities, I think the “somethings” have several factors:

  1. How hard or easy the something is to remove (ie, turning off the music)
  2. How novel and unique the something is (ie, an attractive stranger)
  3. How short term the something is in relation to the activity it is distracting (ie, a conversation while you’re trying to read a book)

So here is the central problem. How do you achieve something that you don’t have much external pressure on, there’s little personal danger to you if you get distracted, and the activity will require long-term commitment to achieve? How do you perform that activity in the face of distractions you cannot easily remove, are sometimes novel or unique and tempting, and have much shorter terms in which you must pay attention to them to achieve something?

The Law of Attraction

Whatever you may think about the “Law of Attraction” concept as touted by new age enthusiasts and books/movies like The Secret, if you take the magic and other-worldliness out of the Law of Attraction, you are left with attraction vs. distraction. It seems most of those touting the Law of Attraction focus more on convincing us that “the magic is real”, when, in fact, there is no magic necessary. We all experience distraction every day, and I think everyone can agree that the degree to which we achieve our goals is at least partly dependent on how distracted we are in the activities to achieve them.

So what do we do? I’m no expert, as is obvious from my own success rate. But I believe we can out-think the problem by being aware of it. Here are my ideas:

  1. Remove distractions as much as possible.
  2. Put weight on the outcome of your activity, no matter what it is. If you find yourself able to work without distractions because you do not want to anger your boss, consider that you are your own best boss. If something is worth doing, remind yourself that.
  3. Become aware of the dangers of distraction, even if the danger is just wasted time and unmet goals.
  4. Keep going. Don’t let the distraction stop you permanently.
  5. Break your long-term goal into several short-term goals that are less likely to be put on hold if a shorter-term distraction occurs.
  6. And if a shorter term distraction occurs, make sure it really is short term. Define for yourself how you will end the distraction and if you realize it will take some time, prioritize it accordingly.

But, in all this, I think the biggest solution is surprising: embrace distraction. I say this because distractions will happen, no matter what. And though they are often the root-cause of failing to meet a goal, their strength comes from your frustration. If you work to avoid distraction and distractions still occur, practice patience with them and move on without judgement. Because it isn’t the avoidance of distractions that makes you succeed, it is the proper reaction to them.

Do you have favorite or effective techniques to combat distraction? How do you deal with it when it occurs?

Image credit:
Loud Noise (manip)
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