How Distractions Can Inspire You

Two hands working on grey and brown knitting yarn

We’re constantly inundated with distractions. 

Between social media and playing games on our phone, noisy neighbors and coworkers, how are any of us supposed to focus and concentrate on the task at hand?

Our distractions have been blamed for decreasing our productivity and attention spans, and for creating a cycle of stress and anxiety. 

Undoubtedly, distractions can negatively impact our work and well-being. But…what if some distractions had a positive impact?

We know, we know, this sounds counter to everything you’ve heard about distractions, but hear us out.

What if some distractions actually help us relieve stress? Or enable us to be more creative and productive in the long run?

Or maybe our distractions are an indication of something deeper, an inner desire or interest, a sign that you’d rather be working on something more connected to what you truly want to do.

Here’s how to do a little investigative work and discover what your distractions may be trying to tell you, and how to ultimately benefit from them. 

When distractions are a good thing

Growing up, we were told that daydreaming was a bad thing. Staring off during class or doodling in your notebook instead of paying attention was a problem!

But oftentimes, distractions and daydreams can be restorative or even inspiring.

Here are some examples of when distractions can be beneficial.

Your mind needs a break. You’ve just come home from a long day at work and the last thing you want to do is tax your brain even more. Your brain deserves a break, especially if you work in a creative role. Inspiration tends to strike when we’re feeling relaxed. So the next time you come home after a long day, indulge in an activity that doesn’t require any brain power at all. Veg out on your couch and watch reality TV. Your brain will thank you.

You need to blow off steam. Likewise, if you’ve had a stressful day or an exhausting interaction with a coworker or stranger, then don’t immediately segue into a task or activity that requires your full attention. In times of stress, you need to release it before it gets all bottled up inside. Play games or listen to music or toss a ball around. These little breaks will help you blow off some steam. Then, when you’re ready, you can return to doing something productive. 

You need to center your mind. When we’re stressed or anxious, our mind tends to race with a million thoughts. We think about things we need to do, or ruminate on past regrets or future scenarios. Doing something with your hands will help distract your mind–in a good way. You’ll stop fixating on the future or past, and stay in the present. So do some knitting or color in a coloring book. Keeping your hands busy will quiet your mind. 

You need a creative outlet.  Let’s say you’re working on a presentation but you find yourself spending time on designing the graphics and the background instead. Don’t judge yourself for getting distracted. This distraction might be trying to tell you something. Maybe you enjoy playing around with color and design. Maybe you’re yearning to do something more creative or visual. Give yourself permission to do more creative activities. Sketch in a notebook or sign up for a class. Let your distraction turn into a creative outlet. 

You need to process information. In school, you may have gotten in trouble for doodling in class, but studies show that doodling is actually good for you. By letting your hands wander on the page, your mind actually has an easier time focusing on what’s going on, and retaining information. So the next time you’re at a meeting and need to pay attention, break out your notebook and pen, and doodle away.

You need a change in perspective. Maybe you’re the type of person who’s always experimenting with a new hobby or learning a new skill. Whether it’s cooking one week or ballroom dancing the next, you can’t seem to settle on doing just one thing. And that’s okay! Being a jack of all trades isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe one day you’ll get to utilize all your different skill sets. Or maybe your various hobbies continually reward you with a fresh perspective on life. Trying on different hobbies for size will open you up to new experiences, skills, and people. 

Actionable exercise: Take a look at your current distractions. Could they be trying to tell you something? Do you need a creative outlet? Or a way to blow off steam? Maybe you can set aside an hour each day of just doing nothing and letting your mind wander. See where your daydreams take you, and let them inspire. 

When your distractions are telling you to modify your behavior 

Of course, not all distractions will benefit you. Some distractions, like doom scrolling the news, or avoiding your work for an extensive period, will lead to stress and feelings of overwhelm. But you can use these distractions as a way to figure out what’s going on and then find a solution.  

Actionable exercise: The next time you find yourself distracted, and not in a good way, write it down. Describe the context. What was your mental state? Were you feeling stressed? Bored? Then, pinpoint the culprit. Maybe you find yourself reaching for your phone all the time because you need the rush of seeing new likes or messages. Or maybe you’re comparing yourself to others on social media because you’re feeling “blah” about what’s going on in your life. 

Find a solution: Now that you’ve identified the culprit it’s time to identify solutions to eliminate the distraction. Maybe it’s putting your phone on airplane mode while you work. Or using a timer to help you focus on your task. Or doing something with your hands like knitting or coloring to keep you from reaching for your phone. If your distraction is tied to feelings of boredom and restlessness, then make a list of 10 action steps you can take this week to help you generate momentum.

Written by JiJi Lee

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