Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Understanding Why We Get Distracted

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Last week I attended Catalyst West, a Christian leadership conference..

Catalyst is one of the premier leadership resources. Each year they pick a different theme for their conferences. This year it is Be Present.

The habit of Presence is lost today.

Presence is more than just showing up, it is being engaged. It is more than attendance, it is being involved.

Using this definition, absence is a plague in our society. We are here, but not really here. We talk on the phone, but are busy with our computers. We sit at lunch with friends, but are thinking about a big meeting later that day. We sit with people everywhere and stare at our phones.

Our bodies are present, but are minds are focused on something else, absent from the now.

We are absent because we are distracted.

photo by underminingme (Creative Commons)

Distractions keep us from our work. Work that is important. Instead of gaining experience through our labors, we are lost in what will never matter.

I don’t believe that we can completely eliminate distractions, but I do believe that they can be minimized.

If asked what distracts you, it is easy to blame your smart phone or social media. Yes, they are culprits, but the real culprit isn’t the device or the app. The real culprit is you.

Twitter is not ineherenly evil, but our obsession with it, reveals something about who we are. To understand a distraction, you have to understand the motivation beyond the activity.

Here are 5 “true” reasons I get distracted from my work.

1. Personal affirmation. Yes, Twitter and Facebook take me away from the present at times, but they are only a sign of a deeper problem. My distraction is really rooted in my need to receive affirmation. My desire to be loved by others. Instead of finding my identity in God’s love for me, I look for significance in the number of followers I have.

I am distracted by my insecurities

2. Dreams. I think everyone should dream big, but sometimes I let my dreams distract me from my work. Instead of focusing on the work I have to do today, I imagine the success I desire tomorrow. Ironically, the dream itself can keep me from doing the work necessary to get better at my craft.

I am distracted by my daydreams.

3. Tommorow. I can be so caught up in what may or may not happen tomorrow, that I lose sight of what is going on today. A guaranteed way of creating more problems for later is not taking care of what is important now. Today has plenty of worries of it’s own. We need to focus on the now.

I am distracted by what hasn’t happened yet.

4. Yesterday. I recently did a talk that could have gone better than it did. I was frustrated because of mistakes I made due to poor preparation. I spent days worrying about something I couldn’t change. Instead of making the talk better, I was angry about the past. I focused on something I couldn’t change.

I am distracted by what is behind me.

5. Fears. We have all experienced it. Paralysis caused by fear. Fear of anticipated bad outcomes. Fear of poor health. Fear of what others think of us. Fear of death. Fear of criticism. My fear convinces me that I should stay at home and hide. But fear is irrational. Most of what we are afraid of is unlikely to ever happen.

I am distracted by my desire to play it safe.

What distracts you? What takes you away from the present?

Share with us in the comments.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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41 Replies

  1. Sometimes, all this technology can become a distraction for me.  For most of the weekend, I unplugged.  It felt great!

  2. Did minimizing distractions help you?

  3. I would say yes.  I was able to focus more on my family and on recharging.

  4. I love that you place the blame not on technology but on me. I’m the reason I get distracted. People need to hear this more often.

  5. Lorna Faith

    I would relate to #3 & #5…as I know I get distracted about things that haven’t happened yet and by the desire to play it safe:(  So I’m focussing more on what my assignment is right now and pushing past my fears to try new things:)

  6. People were distracted before Twitter, but twitter makes it easier and more obvious.

  7. It is interesting how many things we do are motivated by fear.

  8. Glad to hear you enjoyed Cat West. My wife, a couple of other youth leaders, and I attended Cat East and it was a blast.

    I get distracted by social media. It’s so easy to get sucked into it and lose an hour or two.

  9.  Great takeaway Joe! I agree that people need to hear this message and take the blame themselves. It’s so easy to push the fault elsewhere.

  10. Catalyst is great. I would recommend it to anyone. My favorite talk was by Bob Goff. If you ever get a chance to check him out, I highly recommend it.
    Are you going to East this year?

  11. I think we should blame Joe B. as much as we can. : )

  12. I purchased the labs from East and got to hear Bob Goff. He was great. One of my favorites from the labs along with Jon Acuff and Michael Hyatt.

    And yes, we will be going again this year. Already purchased our tickets and cannot wait!

  13.  Sounds like a plan to me!

    I’ll start…. Joe B is the reason my day started off the way it did. (-;

  14. Joe B is the reason I get out of bed every morning.

  15. I was there for his labs talk last year in Atlanta. His main event talk was similar, but even better.

  16.  Joe B is the reason I eat

  17. Joe B’s blog is so good, I can’t help but be distracted by looking for new email from

  18.  Dang it Jeremy. Now I have to blame you… For getting me to subscribe to Joe B’s blog…

  19. Man, you are a conference junkie! 🙂

  20.  Jealous you guys got to hear Bob!

  21. The medical ones are so boring, it makes the other ones easy to go to really good ones. plus I like to travel.

  22. He is probably the only guy who could get away with saying “bitchin” at Catalyst.

  23. Haha you’re a clown.

  24. Okay this is getting out of hand.

  25. By the way, you have a lot of readers with J as the first letter of their first name.

  26. Well Joe, it did you get you a new subscription to your blog (-:

  27. Meg R

    My distraction with the computer is more like it being a toy, timewaster, I can get in there reading all the posts, hours can pass and I’m barely aware.  I can make comments, like being part of a conversation.  Its terrible to look up and realize that I’ve missed dinner time, the evening has gone, and the dog still needs to go for a walk.   Its like I’m addicted to wasting time, but I’m starting to really dislike it a lot. 

  28. I do the same. One of the greatest feelings I have is when I set a plan and then do it, and that plan results in producing something new such as a blog post.

  29. Gina Elder

    This is a great, though-provoking, question. I believe I’m guilty of all these and more. I’m certainly distracted by the temporary satisfaction of doing ‘good’ as opposed to doing what’s ‘best.’ Another misconception (or distraction) is the notion that I “deserve” downtime, because I work hard. The downtime, if not recognized, becomes a lifestyle. 

  30. I like both of yours. Downtime that creates rest that energizes you for more or better work is good. the habit of deserving downtime does sound bad.

  31. That theme is still running through my head after Catalyst Atlanta.  It has really changed my thinking this year.

  32. indeed. good stuff. great to hear from you, Matt.

  33. Jeremy, I’m in a master’s program on neuroleadership and recent neuroscience discoveries are shedding light on how the brain is at work in creating distractions. The more we understand how the brain works, the better we will be at minimizing distraction. Check out my blog for a few articles on how our brain impacts our spiritual and leadership lives.

  34. This is pure truth………..Great Article.

  35. Excellent article!
    I will definitely pass on to distract others and hopefully help them focus better!

  36. JusFewton

    I don’t see, “Ooo, Shiny” on here. Where would that be categorized?

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