One Secret to Help You Break the Habit of Distraction


Today’s big idea is that this one powerful secret can help you break the habit of distraction. There are lots of ways the resolutions I made about what kind of parent I was going to be have gradually faded away the longer I am a mother and the older my kids get. For example, where I was once devoted to 100% homemade meals, I now buy chicken nuggets and fruit strips. The kids have clamored long enough and I don’t want them to be the kids who never got anything that could be perceived as junk so they binge on it any chance they get. Also, you’ve got to love having stuff on hand that they rave about.

But one thing I’m sticking to for as long as I am physically able is no screens at the bus stop or on car drives. I want the kids to stare out the window and be bored, to let their mind wander and get random songs stuck in their head and daydream about all kinds of different things. When they say, “Mom, I’m bored!” I say, “Good!”

(Louis CK has a great bit about this that you can see here.)

I see boredom as a very good thing. It’s fallow time. It’s not about doing or pushing. It forces you to check in with yourself and ask what you want or need. It’s nice, and needed as a counterpoint to all the things that are coming at us all day long.   

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say we live in a world of distraction. Pop-up ads on website, cat videos on Facebook, push notifications on your phone, emails…

Ay yi yi, I’m getting a mini eye twitch just thinking about.

It may seem like all these things are coming at you from somewhere else. Like they are moving toward you from an outside source. And a lot of them are. I mean, they’re called push notifications for a reason!

But a lot of these distractions you reach out for and draw toward you. Every time you pick up your phone even when it hasn’t dinged or buzzed. Or pop in to Facebook just to kill a few minutes. We are all playing a role in our own distraction. And just like anything else, distraction can become a habit.

The antidote is to build up your muscles around being OK with not doing anything. In other words,

Embrace boredom

Doing so will help you build a little padding of down-time into your life. You’ll give yourself an opening to experience spontaneous thoughts, or interactions with your family or co-workers, or just a little space to breathe and be. And these are all things that are vital to your long-term health and happiness.

I can just hear you thinking, But I have so much to do! I can’t just do nothing.

Here’s a paradox for you:

The busier you are, the more you need time where you do nothing. (Click to Tweet!)

No one can sustain a pace of constantly doing things or processing information. You just. Can’t. You’ve got to build your muscles around doing nothing just as much as you need to figure out how to get stuff done. And when’s the last time you devoted any time and attention to doing nothing?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Turn off the radio in the car and drive in quiet.
  • Put your phone in the glove compartment or at the bottom of your bag in the back seat so you don’t get tempted to check texts at red lights.
  • Don’t bring your phone in to the bathroom. No seriously. Or a magazine.
  • Let yourself lie in bed and stare at the wall for a few minutes before you bound out of bed in the morning.
  • Leave the podcasts and playlists at home on your next walk or run. (You can still listen sometimes, just not every)
  • Don’t automatically turn on the TV when you sit down on the couch.
  • If you’ve got 15 minutes between the time you finish one thing and have to leave to be somewhere, don’t try to squeeze something in to the cracks. Either go ahead and leave and get there early, and cool your jets once you’re there, or relax for a bit before you go.

I’d love to hear how you make space for…er, doing nothing in your life. Leave a comment below.


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2 thoughts on “One Secret to Help You Break the Habit of Distraction

  1. This really resonates with me, Kate! I’ve been trying to strengthen my boredom muscles! I don’t (well, *usually* don’t) bring my phone downstairs at night anymore when my husband and I sit down to watch TV after the kids go to bed. During commercials (even Hulu has commercials!) I just force myself to sit there and stare or think or (shock!) talk to my husband (if he isn’t on his phone–you can’t make someone else follow your lead).

    This is how I lived 10 years ago when my phone was just a phone, not a mini computer and I don’t remember thinking it sucked to have to just sit. I am not anti-phone or anti-social media (even after reading Cal Newport’s book, I still Tweet!), but I am trying to, as you say, embrace boredom. I’m not having a ton of luck getting the kids to follow, but I’m trying . . .

    1. Love it, Judi. You can’t make other people follow your lead, but you can let them see you doing it, which you’re doing and is mighty powerful. And you can occasionally invite them to join you, in as light a tone as you can manage. 🙂

      I got Cal Newport’s book from the library, looking forward to diving in!

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