Lately I have noticed a disturbing behavior of mine – I have difficulties focusing on a single activity from start to finish, without interrupting myself with other tasks. This is not just a typical example of procrastination, which I have discussed to exhaustion with countless friends and acquaintances. Because, although procrastination may take the shape of interrupting (what should be) the main focus by smaller distractions, what I am talking about is something different.

For example, if I’m reading an online news article that requires my attention for longer than 3 minutes, it is only very rare that I end up working my way through the entire article without interruptions. These interruptions may be anything from clicking on links found in the article or looking up a related topic; to checking out that recipe I will need later tonight or responding to a not very urgent e-mail that I received a couple of hours ago. In other words, the distractions may or may not be related to the original activity. What happens is that I end up in a state of undesired multitasking, where I am switching between 3 or 4 unfinished tasks. Since none of the tasks receive my full and continuous concentrations, I end up spending much longer total amount on time on each one of them. Or even worse: some tasks may even be completely forgotten, only to be found by coincidence hours or days later.

A psychologist or psychiatrist (what is actually the difference?) may be tempted to diagnose this behavior with all kinds of letter combinations, but since I trust myself to be mentally very sane, I am happy with just pondering over the causes and problematics of this type of behavior – and how to avoid it. I think the source of the problem lies in the ever-increasing number of stimuli that we get exposed to every day, making it difficult to choose on what to focus. We are overwhelmed with information in which we want to engage and take part, but simply don’t have the ability to decide what is most important to us.

With important I do not necessarily refer to actions that are in fact useful, self-developing, or even necessary. Life is and should be full of time-wasting activities – I don’t believe in an efficient life. But I do think that it is important to have something to devote oneself to, something to progressively become better at. Whether that something is photography, science, cooking, or rock balancing is up to oneself to choose; but in times when our exposure to other people’s interests are literally everywhere, finding one’s vocation may (paradoxically) be difficult.

This was actually one of the reasons me and Gonçalo decided for our three challenges, now almost a year ago. It makes me sad to realize that I haven’t improved much during this time, but as long as I’m aware of this behavior, it should not be impossible to change.

2 thoughts on “Self-distraction

  1. Note: When I started commenting on your post I changed tab a couple of times, felt an urge to explain what’s the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist and now writing this note. I can relate very well to your post.

    I understand how you feel, and I would like to think I am different in that sense, but I’m really not. What I do to address that problem is 1)dedicate several minutes to study the task before I actually delve into it; and 2) use small coping mechanisms.
    Approaches like “thinking about a problem, before you propose solutions” usually help me getting in the right mindset to focus solely on the problem at hand. Focus takes time to acquire, so by the time you’re done with your inquiry into what you’re about to do, you’re already committed to it. Also, when you feel like changing activity, you can always go back to the “why was I doing this in the first place?” and that will prevent you from switching so easily.
    Regarding the coping mechanisms, it’s more of a “keep lists and actually check them” thing, but I am far from being any good at it =p
    Of course, all of this is easier said than done.

    I might reuse some of this stuff in my blog, if you don’t mind.

    By the way, one major difference between psychologist and psychiatrist is that the former does counselling , whereas the later intervenes (for example, through the usage of drugs).

    • …”felt an urge to explain what’s the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist and now writing this note. I can relate very well to your post.”

      Hehe, I was about to look it up myself as I was writing the post, but realized that it would mean doing exactly what I want to avoid. 😀

      “I might reuse some of this stuff in my blog, if you don’t mind.”

      Mi blog es tu blog, mi amigo.

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