We tell ourselves that we live in a distracted age, and blame our lack of focus on our phones, social media, and the pressures of the digital age.
But I’m not sure we’re that much worse than we’ve ever been. Our phones might be the default channel, but I find I’m just as easily distracted from the task of the moment by:
- Puzzles and toys;
- Family members;
- My own writing;
- Other people;
- Background TV;
- Snacks: healthy;
- Snacks: unhealthy;
- A passing person or animal;
- The view;
- The weather;
- Pieces of old rope;
- The next cup of coffee;
- Interesting or aesthetically pleasing pebbles / trees / etc.;
- Historical inscriptions;
- A dripping tap (or other outstanding household job);
- My imagination.
And my kids seem designed to live for chasing the next shiny (or moving, or edible) thing that crosses their paths. Being easily distracted (“bad”) is a hallmark of childhood – but it’s really the flipside of curiosity (“good”). So I find myself asking what the difference is, and whether we have one without the other.
I suppose a distraction is “something that takes our attention away from where we would like it to be,” and curiosity “being interested in (paying attention to) new things.”
So the things we’re curious about – whether we regard them as good or otherwise – become a distraction when they take our attention away from what we think we should be paying attention to.
To deal with this, it might be helpful to review what’s important to you (you’ve probably done this many times before). But for a change – assuming that curiosity and serendipity are things you value – why not add “Good Things I’m Curious About,” to the list of things that are important to you – and make a decent sized list. These frivolous pursuits are often so enriching and wonderful – and have so many unintended positive consequences – that they take on a collective importance.
On the flipside, you could compile a list of “Things I’m Curious About That are Actually a Waste of Time At Best,” (these are true distractions that steal both from your priorities and from lifegiving curiosity) and think of strategies for avoiding them. James Clear’s Atomic Habits has some good suggestions for how to go about this.
And give yourself a break – take the time to notice when your curiosity is a blessing at least as often as you notice the curse of distraction.