We all participate in behaviors that distract us from something.
Those behaviors and the things they distract us from are slightly different from person to person. The crazy thing is, it is simply getting easier and easier for people to distract themselves. Every new technology that offers consumers ease and comfort are an additional venue by which we can forget the important things in our lives.
Popular distraction behaviors include social media, pointless argument, reading, watching a movie, and video games.
Popular things we try to escape are stress from work/school, relationship struggles, feelings of worry or anger, bothersome obsessions, and any other strong feeling, really.
It’s often fine to engage in a behavior to distract you from something: it takes your mind away from it, and you may often leave feeling refreshed.
But it also seems to be true that, no matter how much we try to avoid it, emotions poke their way through if they haven’t been processed properly. And so it’s important to recognize when you’d be better off dealing with your emotions head-on than distracting yourself from them.
In my opinion, the answer is probably most of the time.
By nature, a distraction is something that brings our attention away from the present. And so we need to be careful about when we let ourselves be distracted. Because, often, it’s probably better to slow down and let yourself feel how your mind is trying to get you to feel.
Keep a brief list of things you often use to distract yourself. For me, I wrote TikTok, Instagram, and Debating politics and religion.
And so lately, I’ve been becoming more aware of when I reach for these things for the purpose of distraction.
And when I do, I ask myself if I’d be better off putting my phone down and just letting myself think for a while.
For example, today, I really entertained a worry I was feeling about my grades. I was doing all kinds of research, trying to learn about how to get the grades I wanted, punching numbers into a calculator, becoming more worried at some points and less at others.
Regardless, I let myself feel this worry. And right now, although I wouldn’t say I’m no longer worried, I know that over the next few hours, it will naturally abate. If I just watched YouTube instead of letting myself worry, who knows when the worry would have made itself out?
So what I did by giving myself the time to do not much but think was taking some control over myself.
Keep in mind, I’m not trying to control whether I feel emotions, because that’s a waste of time. Rather, I’m controlling when I feel emotions, because one way or another, I will.
When Distractions are Appropriate
Although it is often best to recognize when you’re distracting yourself, there are also some times where distractions are absolutely fine; it’s just about finding a balance that works for you.
Keeping in mind that emotions will be processed whether or not you want them to be, it’s best to distract yourself in ways that are genuinely enjoyable to you, as separate from pleasurable.
When I speak of pleasure, I’m referring to a mind-numbing distraction without a personal purpose or goal. When I speak of enjoyment, I mean legitimately fulfilling activities during which one can find a nice sense of challenge and fulfillment.
Instagram is usually just pleasurable, but practicing an instrument is enjoyable. YouTube is pleasurable, but reading or watching a thought provoking movie is enjoyable.
These enjoyable practices can improve the quality of one’s life, as further outlined in the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
So just try to watch the activities you reach for in an effort to avoid your problems, and ask yourself whether that time would be better spent performing an enjoyable activity or simply being mindful of the emotions you’re trying to avoid.
Write in the comments something you have caught yourself doing as a means of escaping certain feelings.
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