I need to complete one chapter within 2 hours, but it has been 4 hours and I'm still not half way through it.

I need to prepare a presentation submit by 5 pm, but I'm still struggling on the first slide.

Have you been through similar situations?

Distraction is simply when we are not able to focus on any task we're doing. A 100% focus on one task might be an ideal and unrealistic expectation to have.

Some people might find this surprising and demotivating, however, the truth is that our minds are complex. It grasps even the smallest of things happening around us. In simple terms, our mind receives notification of all sorts from our environment. For example- while you're reading this you might hear people chatting in the background, or sounds of cars honking, phone buzzing, sound of the fan, etc.

Now we may not give full attention to it but we know it's happening. To sum it up, it is upon is how do we deal with this quality of our minds that registers every small detail.

As sometimes our minds can get distracted and we may not be able to focus on doing what we planned to do.

Why do we get distracted?

This is a question many of us have asked ourselves infinite number of times.

Our distraction could be external or/and internal.

External Distractions

  • Digital overload- in a world where everything has become digital, it has become easier to get distracted in more ways now. Receiving messages, notifications, news, etc can often break our line of thought and lead us in a different direction
  • Social media- usage of social media has more impact on our mind than we can ever imagine. It starts with a small thought and makes us often daydream about how things would turn out because that seems more interesting
  • Pressure- at times their might be too much pressure and stress from parents or bosses which can make us anxious enough to get distracted

Internal Distractions

  • Overthinking- we're often stuck in our own loop of thoughts. Ironically, most of the time the thoughts can be about how to stop getting distracted while we're getting distracted
  • Motivation- one must question oneself what pushes them to focus on this task. There needs to be some kind of motivation, be it intrinsic or extrinsic
  • Self Criticism- the most important thing is how we view ourselves. We often blame external environment for our inability to focus, however, many times we're harsh upon ourselves by criticizing our own behavior. This is self limiting and often becomes the sole reason to get distracted by how we perceive and judge ourselves
  • Excessive Planning- some people tend to strive for perfect results and perfect outcomes that become too unreal to achieve. Hence while seeing their progress in reality they tend to feel worthless as compared to their expectations
  • Attention span- each individual has different attention span depending on their interest level or capacity to absorb information. To push beyond one's capacity can be unproductive and exhausting

Now these might be few of the causes you might have experienced if you reflect on it. The next important thing to know is that why must we overcome these distractions?

It's important to do so because if our mind has the tendency to get distracted it evoked certain kind of emotions and those are:

  • Dissatisfaction: we are often left dissatisfied by trying to focus on so many things and not being able to fulfill one goal
  • Anxiety: dealing with distractions can make us emotionally overwhelmed and anxious which becomes a part of our nature in other aspects of our lives too
  • Regret/Guilt: we may start feeling guilty for not being able to focus on our task.
  • We may have thoughts like: “my parents are spending their hard earned money on my education and I'm just wasting their time” or “as usual I will prove to the boss that I'm unworthy of completing tasks, and he will fire me”
  • Procrastination: the fear of not being able to complete tasks can often pull us back from initiating it. This can bring in fear as well as makes us procrastinate.

Now, as realistic as we want to be, the purpose is not- how to not get distracted at all, but to know how can we minimize our distractions and maximize our focus.

Hence we must understand our mind's mechanism-- distractions will be there, so we must train to overcome them.

Now How Can We Do So

  1. Patience is the key: whatever we are doing we must know there is a process for it. Rome wasn't built in a day, and you won't complete everything today! So keep calm to plan and execute your goals
  2. Know your pace: let us know that each person is unique and has a unique pace to complete their work or study a given material. Track your speed and work on it, because your competition is not with others but yourself
  3. Realistic goals: set small targets to begin with, so that achieving them can create a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence to achieve higher targets
  4. Allot time for distractions: it is natural to not eliminate distractions so we can keep them aside to address them later. Mentally note down if there's anything else bothering you and address all those together in the allotted time
  5. Small breaks/Fillers: breaks are required between tasks to regain your energy and productivity. Having a glass of water, deep breathing exercise, listening to music, getting fresh air are a few things you can try in between your tasks. These breaks can be for 10-15 minutes max to help you resume where you stopped.
  6. Get help- Reach out to your counselor to understand the need to procrastinate, or get away from attending to unimportant things, and get a deeper understanding to your pattern. These might indicate that there is a deep rooted need or concern which needs a resolve.

It doesn't matter if you start with small targets or goals, because we must remember that small changes lead to big transformations.