How to Resist Distraction and Focus on the People You Love

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It was a slow erosion. Each day, another wave of distraction carried away a bit of my life, replacing it with soundbites, quips, emails, and statuses.

I couldn’t concentrate because there was too much. Too much to focus on anything.

Besides, email and social media always needed tending.

That’s not to say there aren’t helpful conversations over email. Instead, it’s an acknowledgment that social media and email use, when left unchecked, create barriers to in-person human interactions and getting important work done.

Cal Newport’s books (Deep Work and Digital Minimalism) helped me dig into the trade-offs we make when we use (or overuse) digital devices, including how we may feel drained or like we are leading a fragmented, distraction-filled life.

If you have mixed feelings about this, I hear you. It’s normal to both acknowledge your phone as a distraction and feel uneasy about taking a break.

It’s not you. We’ve been conditioned to feel this way.

Slot machines, smoking and social media are designed to be addictive distractions

Cigarettes, Slot Machines … And Social Media?

Consider that strategists like me, computer scientists like Cal Newport, and even Steve Jobs and Bill Gates — people with significant knowledge and experience with tools, apps, and devices — warn of the dangers of excessive screen time and an over-reliance on technology.

We are the canaries in the coal mine.

In Cal Newport’s latest book, Digital Minimalism, he recounts an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher where Maher compares social media with big tobacco.

It’s time we start looking at social media and digital distraction the same way we do other other bad habits, like smoking.

Sounds insane, right?

Maher’s hyperbole isn’t far off. Social media companies now face scrutiny for their “digital feedback loops,” causing addictive behavior. Like a slot machine.

Don’t believe me? Next time you post something to Facebook or Instagram consider how many times you check back to see if you get likes or comments (or both!).

That is the digital feedback loop.

It’s OK. We all do it. It’s not you. That’s how it’s designed to operate.

Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker explains that Facebook was designed to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible. … We need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

The digital feedback loop is intentional.

Distraction is the new normal

Distraction is the New Normal

Our phones and computers help us feel more connected, right?

I feel like this added digital “connection” makes us less connected. I feel like this increased reliance we have on devices, divides us.

I think we’ve seen that during the presidential election, and the aftermath for sure, where digital communities can move us further apart. We spend so much time staring at our phones. Look around a restaurant or coffee shop. Ever notice tables of families where everyone is staring at their phones? We often choose distraction over connection.

When did we become so digitally numb – so oblivious — to the world around us? So much so we ignore loved ones across the table. And miss the human touch. Human interaction. Social conversation.

What I’ve come to is this. Whether you’re in the business of leading a family or generating revenue – or both – have you checked in with yourself recently about whether your digital life is serving you?

I want you to ask yourself whether the technology tools you’re using — computer, tablet, smartphone, social media, email — are helping you reach your goals or harming your progress? I mean this in a deep and meaningful way.

What are the returns you are getting from using social media? How is it enabling you to be your best you?

The war on our thoughts started in secret

We Are At War: FOMO vs. Our Values

Increasingly, I look at it as a war.

Like we are in a battle between the fear of missing out and our values.

What’s going to win? Is it FOMO or our core values?

And is social media building community? Or is it building shallow relationships? What is your return on investment (ROI)?

Do you have to Facebook Live your baby’s first steps? Or is it more meaningful to be fully present for the once-in-a-lifetime event?

We worry about our kids’ screen time. It’s also time to focus on our own distractions.

I run a business and if you want to talk about the nuts-and-bolts of social media ROI, cool. I can sit on social media all day for “business,” and all those likes and comments don’t put a roof over my head.

Feeling Distracted? Start with Mindful Reflection

A recent podcast guest, Dr. Patricia Thompson, talked about mindfulness. She describes mindfulness as navigating your life with intentionality, thinking things out, breathing deeply, and looking at situations in a non-judgmental way.

With that in mind, I’m asking you to look at social media in a non-judgmental way and ask yourself if you can quantify what you have earned on social media in revenue. And again, that can be the revenue of life or the revenue of your business. Is it supporting your highest good? Or is it a bad habit causing fragmentation, with a dash of fear and jealousy, creating divides in your community?

Don’t feel bad if you learn you’ve spent a ton of time on social media for relatively no return. That’s why the non-judgmental observation piece is so crucial. These programs are designed for distraction. If you’re checking them, again and again, it’s because it’s how we’ve been conditioned to behave.

For me, it all started with an annoying notification. Every Sunday afternoon, my phone alerted me to review screen time. And then I looked at it. And I realized that I was spending hours on my phone.

I was surprised. And not surprised.

I decided I’m not some Pavlovian dog mixed with Sally Field. Social media notifications needn’t elicit a response from me to check whether you like me, you really really like me.

Checking social media all the time is like Sally Field’s Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech.

Understanding the Destructive Nature of Distraction

When I was in junior high, I met a man who had a profound impact on my life. His name was Swede Boice. He was an older man, with beautiful, piercing eyes that looked straight into your soul. He said one thing in particular that I carry into everything I do.

“You get out of it what you put into it.” – Swede Boice

Usually, this propels me to dedicate time and energy toward an effort or initiative.

As I reflected on my time spent on the phone, my heart sank. What was I getting out of it? And was it what I wanted?

When I looked at phone time in a non-judgmental way, it became clear to me that it wasn’t directly propelling me toward making more money, being active in my community, and spending uninterrupted quality time with friends and family.

I found that ‘you get out of it what you put into it’ applies to life lessons.

I question whether it applies to our digital lives.

Is Your Resistance the Digital Beast Talking?

I’m suggesting that the entire model for social media is meant to distract, to annoy, and to make you check how many likes you have, without connecting you in a profound, meaningful way.

Some of you are going to tell me you’re making tons of money on social media. I think that’s great. I think it’s likely through paid advertising because for business social media is increasingly pay-to-play. Or it’s other activities — not social media — that’s generating revenue.

The question I have for you is, is your digital life operating in a supportive model? When you consider that time is precious and limited, does your digital life fully support and align with becoming your best self?

Or, is your digital life operating in a servant model? Are you serving the digital beast feasting on an infinite feedback loop?

Time is too precious for distractions

Time Is Too Precious To Allow Distraction to Take Over

We have to be attentive to what we are doing. We give more than our photos, likes, and comments – we’re donating our time. Our time is a treasure or a series of lost opportunities. Our kids are only going to be small for so long. Today might be the last time you hug your loved ones.

Right now will never happen again. How do you wish to spend it?

I’ll be honest with you. It’s hard not to be distracted. I struggle with it too.

I created a journal so I could reflect on whether things like Facebook, Twitter, email, CNN, and Amazon distracted me from treasured family relationships and business goals.

I use tools like Boomerang to pause my inbox and Freedom to eliminate social media, news, and shopping distractions.

I’m re-learning the art of reading a book without hopping from online article to online article. I make space to be away from all electronic devices when I wake up and before I go to bed.

On days when I create the most space, my productivity is up, and I feel deeply connected to things much more significant than anything I could find on a smartphone.

Are you ready to emerge from the digital fog?

Join me. I believe in you.

Ready to start looking at how you spend your time? Get Digital Trade-Offs and learn whether your online time is aligned with your biggest goals.

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