Distraction, Self-deception, & Hangovers

Distraction, Self-deception, & Hangovers

At times it can feel like we live in a near-constant state of distraction, our attention diverted from the task at hand by an endless parade of meaningless pursuits and time-wasting activities. We avoid doing the things that are meaningful to us in favour of various forms of distraction, consciously or unconsciously – otherwise known as procrastination.

It’s sometimes said that we can tell what is most valuable to us by looking at what we spend most of our time on. I’m here to tell you that this is crap, straight up. It’s true that some people spend the majority of their time on what’s truly valuable to them, but they tend to be in the minority.

Many people spend their free time watching TV. We do this to numb and soothe ourselves, and give our overactive minds some downtime. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; it’s necessary to switch off and passively allow ourselves to be entertained sometimes, to give our brains time to recuperate from what we subject them to on a daily basis. However, it is important to remember that while this activity might be necessary – we can’t be actively problem-solving all the time – it doesn’t contribute to our goals.

Another meaningless pursuit that many of us are guilty of, perhaps more than we’d like to admit, is drinking as a mode of escapism. Allowing that quick, feel-good fix to smooth over your stresses as the nice warm buzz of the booze as it enters your bloodstream. It’s a good feeling.

The issue with this is that like vegging out and allowing your brain to turn to mashed potato in front of Netflix; it is a distraction. The escape is temporary. It takes you further from your path. It hinders your progress. You’re likely going to wake up the next day with a hangover and fail to achieve whatever you wanted to. Make a habit of it and you’re going to set yourself back, time and time again. Many of us are guilty of falling into this pattern.

Your default, lizard-brain life distracts you from your life by design, the life you want to live. Allowing your autopilot to take over is akin to just lying back and accepting your lot in life. Things happen to you rather than you happening to them. You make half-hearted excuses for yourself and say “ah well, this is just how it is”, “that’s life” and any other clichés you can come up with to make yourself feel better and justify your behaviours. Once you’ve admitted this to yourself you can take charge and regain control of your situation.   

One way to take control and not allow your distraction techniques to derail your life is with careful planning and damage limitation, for example by factoring in ‘hangover days’. When you’ve got a night out coming up or an event where the drinks are likely to be flowing, designate the next day for doing nothing. Give your brain the day off and just let it be. No guilt, no shame, just acceptance that today is a day of nothingness and recovery, a necessary evil in the pursuit of distraction (and hopefully enjoyment!). Of course, a more effective way of dealing with this would be to not drink at all, and maybe you’ve decided that this is doable for you (in which case go for it, you have our respect) but the black and white approach doesn’t suit everyone and moderation if often a more attractive, sustainable option.

The downside to this of course is that there will be times that you have to say “no”. If you don’t have the space to factor in a hangover day, you will need to decline the invitation or resist the urge to drink. You do need willpower, there’s no magic formula, but when you recognise that your behaviour is leading you away from your path or hindering your journey, you’re much less likely to fall off the wagon. This isn’t to say that you can’t be productive on your hangover days if you feel the urge. As creative-minded people we never entirely switch off and have the potential to be struck with ideas and inspiration at all times of the day and night. But any kind of commitment or must-do task on a hangover day is a no-go.

Distractions are enjoyable and welcome in the short-term, but the long-term should be your top priority and the main factor to take into consideration when make decisions about how to spend your time. Short-term pain for long-term gain is sometimes necessary to get you where you want to be.

That brings us to another challenge we all face when we take control of our situation; the fear of how we might be perceived and judged by other people.

Fear is a funny thing. Seth Godin tells us we should identify our fear and lead with it. Humans are social animals and we fear ostracisation and ridicule. We fear others laughing at us for what I’m trying to accomplish. The naysayers. The people who don’t think it’s possible. Why the hell do we let those people stop us? They’re not our people. If you suffer with this fear as many of us do, remember the people who are trying to steer you away from what you want most, the enablers of distraction, and repeat after me: they are not our people.

Our people are the ones who understand immediately when we decline their invitation. The ones who say, what do you need from me? How can I help? What are you working on? Not the ones that say, can’t you do that tomorrow instead? These people are not our friends, they are the enemy of achievement.

Sometimes this behaviour stems from jealousy that unlike you, they aren’t bold enough to strive towards their ambitions. They are resigned to living their default life. But you’re not, are you? The fact that you’re reading this is evidence of that. This is why you need to manage your time around these people very carefully and don’t allow them to bump you off course.

How good do you feel after you’ve done something towards your greater goal? When you’ve written 1000 words, or done a workout? When you do these things that keep you buzzing for the rest of the day, just from the knowledge that you’ve accomplished something that contributes to your long-term goals? 

Do you get that delicious high from having sat in front of the TV all night? Do you get it when you’ve gone out and got black-out drunk? No, you get the existential dread. You get a shameful feeling in the pit of your stomach. You feel like shit because you know you’ve wasted yet another opportunity to make a dent in whatever it is you’re working towards. You’ve distracted yourself from your path.

Ultimately, it’s important to always be honest with ourselves and own our decisions. We are all flawed and sometimes it’s inevitable that we will prioritise what we want right now over what we want long-term. However, by being aware of our distractions and using them sparingly and wisely rather than as our default setting, we can shift our focus from instant gratification and instead view our choices as part of the journey towards something more meaningful, whatever that is to you.

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