There’s a big reason we have so many issues trying to accomplish important work. We aren’t clear about what is the main attraction and what are simply distractions.
When you think about your daily activities, how many of them could be classified as a distraction?
- Binge-watching House of Cards
- Scrolling through a dozen screens of Facebook updates (and associated ads)
- Reading gossip about celebrities
- Spreading gossip about celebrities
- Checking email unnecessarily
– Ironically, I got derailed from writing this blog post because checking my email seemed critical (it wasn’t).
But there are even bigger things than this. Your job could be distracting you from the attraction of a fulfilling and impacting career. That fad diet could be distracting you from a more meaningful, healthy lifestyle. Treating those migraine headaches may be distracting you from dealing with the stress you’re under and finding a sense of peace.
What can you do to overcome distraction?
Knowing when to quit and when to press on can be one of life’s toughest decisions. When things get tough, the tough get going… but do they go straight ahead or in a different direction? When I wanted to quit football in high school, my father taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.
In preparation for the big homecoming game my sophomore year, our rural Oklahoma football team had ordered new uniforms so we would look our best during the halftime ceremony. Just one problem – there weren’t enough new uniforms for everyone. Junior and senior class players got first selections. Then as one of the coaches was giving sophomores their uniforms, he skipped me (and a couple of other “average” athletes) and gave the remaining uniforms to some of the talented freshmen players.
I was humiliated.
original image by samplediz at FreeImages.com (http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1224442)
“I’ll never let that happen again.”
Amidst all of life’s slings and arrows, we learn to put up our shields to protect ourselves. We do this to get through situations when we feel attacked, but if we leave our shields up we close ourselves off. We galvanize ourselves in a way that prevents us from learning, changing and growing.
We trust someone and they hurt us, so we no longer trust as easily.
We try something new and it backfires, so we go back to our comfort zone.
We share our art with others and get negative feedback, so we keep it to ourselves next time.
Our brains naturally try and avoid pain in order to protect our existence. Self-preservation is essential in life or death scenarios. But we’re people, not jam. We don’t need to be preserved indefinitely. In order to experience what it means to be human, we have to take emotional and mental risks, even when it means inevitably experiencing pain.
If we let it, our emotional posture will stunt our growth.
You are faced with a nearly infinite number of decisions each day. The cereal aisle in the grocery store used to be a sign of our mountain of choices, but you can now find enough varieties of any product to fill a store (or more) thanks to online shopping. The only problem with your freedom to choose is you no longer feel you have the freedom to NOT choose. (It’s no surprise we now use terms like decision fatigue to explain why this process wears us out.)
So, what do you do? If you’re like most of us, you put off choices when the decision isn’t clear. But some of these decisions could be important or urgent, so the procrastination technique isn’t always successful. Some decisions can’t wait, but you don’t have enough time to do everything at once.
This brings you one more decision to make: which choices will you choose?
In order to figure this out, it will help you to know which of 2 kinds of indecision you’re experiencing: indifference or ambivalence.
If you don’t care whether you eat at the Italian restaurant versus the burger joint, then you are indifferent. This is the type of decision you can defer. Let someone else choose or simply flip a coin to decide. If the meal isn’t imminent, you can also put off this decision until later.
If you’re choosing between two very different job offers, but want each one for solid reasons… then you are ambivalent. This is the kind of decision that deserves your full attention. You may need time to research the options further, gather other opinions and gather your best judgment.
This seems somewhat obvious, but you can spend a lot of time pondering choices without considering how much you care about the outcome. By focusing our attention away from our indifference and on what you feel strongly about, you can accomplish more significance with every decision.
Do you struggle with indecision? Let me know if this is helpful or if you have other thoughts on this topic.
Many of us remember when the TV show Dallas turned an entire season into “just a dream” in order to bring back a character who had been killed off. Viewers were furious with what they deemed a copout. The solution was much too convenient and it came out of the blue.
This is a prime example of what the industry calls a deus ex machina.
A deus ex machina is something inserted into a story which provides a contrived solution. In Latin, the phrase means literally “a god from the machine.” We may show frustration with Pam waking up or Tolkien’s eagles, but truth be told, we want our own god from the machine.
We want the pill that allows us to lose weight without changing our eating or exercise habits. We want that windfall of money from the lottery to solve our debt problems. We want our relationship issues to disappear as the other person realizes they were wrong all along. Basically, we want to wake up in the morning and realize all our problems are now as insignificant as a bad dream that rinses out of our lives in the morning shower.
Wishing for your own deus ex machina does little good. Your time can be better spent honing your craft, growing your following, rolling a snowball downhill and building momentum. As you do this, you learn how to make bold – but smart – decisions. This is where you can take the leap you’ve been preparing for your entire life (and the leap after that).
And maybe that’s it. Maybe it is a bit of god from the machine. Only, in this case, the machine is your life.
Crossing numerous small hills doesn’t make you a mountain climber.
Dousing millions of lit matches one at a time won’t qualify you as a fire fighter.
Running a quarter mile every day for four months won’t make you a marathon runner.
The tedium of small accomplishments can lead you to become apathetic about what you’re doing. If you’re willing to take on the bigger challenge, you may find greater significance in your work. Each step gets you closer to the top of the mountain or closer to an important finish line. The thrill of knowing you can do something significant can inspire you to keep going.
They say the key to eating an elephant is to take one bite at a time. Unfortunately, we often look for bite-sized elephants instead.
That’s fine. Just don’t complain about the portion size once you choose it.
After reading Seth Godin’s latest book What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn), a friend and I talked about it. She questioned why there is such a disconnect between how most people live their lives and the possibilities Seth talked about in his book.
It was a really smart question, and it begs another.
Does Seth Godin get it?
The reality we experience tells us otherwise. In our reality…
- The tallest blade of grass gets cut. So fly under the radar by keeping your head down.
- Generosity doesn’t scale. You gotta get your own in this world.
- Art doesn’t pay. Get a real job with guarantees and certainty.
- Picking yourself is a fool’s errand. Your energy is better spent getting the attention of the powers-that-be and persuading them of your worthiness.
- If you don’t know if it will work… don’t do it. It has to work or it isn’t worth the investment.
Seth’s book (as well as his long-lasting blog) tells us otherwise. His possibilities tell us…
- You owe it to the world to pick up the microphone and say something meaningful.
- It’s your turn to give a gift. Just because you can.
- If you are open to uncertainty, you can be a pathfinder for the rest of us. There is art in that.
- You have to TAKE your turn, because it’s rarely given to you.
- This might not work, and that’s OK. Dance in the duality of work/not work. Don’t run away from the fear, but don’t ignore it either. The ability to live in that tension and discover what you can do in the midst of that… that is artistry.
Godin is definitely seeing something else. The world he paints isn’t the one most people see when they walk into their slate gray cubicle on Monday at 7:59 AM. It’s not the one we see in the eyes of the department store clerk… partly because he won’t make eye contact with us to begin with. This isn’t the reality presented to us by television, human resources, our colleagues at the water cooler or by bureaucracy.
So, does Seth Godin get it? If so, why is this so hard for us to see?