focus: why letting go can be difficult
While it might seem appealing to give up distractions and let go of the addiction to information, email or news, it’s not always easy. It’s definitely easier said than done.
It’s similar to the problem of letting go of possessions — often we have sentimental or emotional attachment to possessions, or worry that we’ll need them later or be less secure without the possessions. Clearing out clutter isn’t always easy, because of these emotional hurdles.
Letting go of addictions to information and distractions is just as hard. We might want to let go, but when the rubber meets the road, we balk. We have urges. We falter and fall and fail.
Why is that? And how can we overcome these hurdles?
Let’s take a look at the biggest difficulties and some ideas for beating them.
1. Addiction. Information, news and distractions can become an addiction, as we discussed in previous chapters. And beating addictions isn’t easy. Even when our motivation to beat the addiction is strong, the urges we feel and rationalizations we make to ourselves can be even stronger.
How do we beat this addiction? We talked about this previously, but in a nutshell, we must beat them individually (not a whole bunch of addictions at once), figure out what our triggers are for that addiction (when do we automatically do the addiction and feel the urges), and become mindful of the triggers and our urges.
Remember that urges are only temporary. If you are aware that you’re feeling an urge, you can ride it like a wave — it’ll surge and get stronger, and then fade away. Take some deep breaths, and replace the habit with another habit — like doing pushups, going for a walk, or finding a quiet spot and reflecting. If you enjoy the new habit, you can more easily replace the old habit. Ride the urges and you can beat them, one at a time. Eventually the urges will go away and you’ll have a new habit that’s more conducive to focus.
2. Filling an emotional need. Each distraction fills a need in some way. You do the distraction for a reason. New email gives you a little feeling of satisfaction, a confirmation that you’re important. So do new replies on Twitter or Facebook or other online forums, or text messages or phone calls. Entertaining distractions fill a need to avoid boredom, or a need to rest from work that strains our mind. There are other similar emotional needs that these distractions fill, but the key is to consider each need.
What happens when we try to remove these distractions? We feel a void where they used to be. Which means we need to find a way to fill that void.
If you get satisfaction or a feeling of importance from new emails or other notifications or messages … it’s important to be honest with yourself about that. Why do these interruptions, notifications, make you feel good? Is there another way to get validation? Maybe it’s good to find recognition instead from the accomplishments and creations that result from finding focus.
If you try to avoid boredom, perhaps it’s important to find things that excite you, that you’re passionate about. Someone pursuing a passion doesn’t need solitaire or Farmville to avoid boredom.
Whatever the emotional need, be honest about it, be conscious of it, and find other ways to fulfill it.
3. Fears. As we discussed earlier, often we feel the need to stay up-to-date, with news or by checking email constantly or other similar ways of staying in touch. We fear being out of touch, being uninformed.
The only way to beat fears is to face them, and confront them with facts.
Fears have the most power when we don’t confront them, when we let them hide in the dark and exercise their quiet influence over our lives. So the key to beating these fears is to face them. Be honest — what are you afraid of?
Then shine a light on these fears with actual facts — what harm has actually been caused so far? Try to do a short test — an hour, a day, a few days, a week — and see what the results are. In most cases the actual harm will be much less than you fear. For example, try going a day without responding to email — see whether you missed anything that was truly important. By getting actual results, the fears will be shown to be baseless (in most cases, I’d guess).
More on beating fears later, in the chapter by psychologist Gail Brenner.
4. Desires. Sometimes we have trouble letting go of these addictions because of desires — the desire to be successful at something, for example, or the desire to be seen as good at something, or the desire to build wealth.
If we have a strong desire to be a successful blogger or Internet marketer, to take just two examples, we might try to connect with as many other bloggers or readers or marketers as possible, and try to attract as many followers as possible on Twitter and our blog, all of which would require lots of time emailing, tweeting, blogging, commenting on blogs, and so forth.
If the desire wasn’t there, the need to connect all the time wouldn’t be there. Now, I can’t say whether you want to get rid of the desire, but it’s important to be honest about what your desires are, what the consequences are when it comes to these addictions, and whether that’s how you want to live your life. If you’re OK with these desires and their consequences, at least you’re aware of them.
If you want to drop the desire, it’s not simple, but it can be done. I’d suggest first thinking about why you want to drop the desire — because of negative consequences — and then be more aware when the desire comes up at different times during the day. Just like addictive urges, desires will come and go, and taking some deep breaths and riding out the desire will help you get through it. Eventually, you’ll learn that you don’t need the desire.