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Distraction: The Opposite of Mindfulness

Image of ride at a fair, people in chairs swinging around high in the air. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, distraction, Katherine Broadway

How many ways can we distract ourselves? There is a plethora of ways. Are all our distractions a waste of time? No. In fact, some of the most engaging ways to distract ourselves are useful and at times, important. Distraction can be a way to fill time, enable us to zone out and not think about or be aware of time passing.

Being distracted plays an important role in many people’s lives. The purpose of distraction varies according to one’s needs at any moment. I call the many ways of distracting ourselves the good, the bad and the ugly.

Distractions help us:

• To not feel

• To not see

• To not hear

• To not act

• To not think

Distraction takes away a person’s ability to function at full capacity. It prevents you from developing a sense of who you are. Your "self” gets lost inside as distractions fill the space where the self needs to reside.

Normal Activity or Distraction?

There are people who lose themselves in their work, from stressed executives to full-time volunteers. Whatever the activity, when it is taken to a place where you feel disconnected from yourself and the people in your life, you have crossed the line between a normal activity and a distraction.

I worked with a female executive who thought about work all the time. She was on-call 18 hours a day because “the company might need her.” Her job interfered with her relationships with family and friends. She became depressed for no apparent reason. When she began to slow down, become mindful, and pay attention to herself, she was able to recognize her feelings of inadequacy and inferiority that were hidden by her busy life. She was afraid that she was going to be found out and fired. These hidden feelings and beliefs ran her life.

There are people for whom distraction is a way of life. They have been distracted so long they don’t even realize how they are living.

I worked with a man who began to have health issues. The doctor told him he needed to cut down on his drinking. He grew up in a family where drinking was the norm, then entered a career where drinking was a part of the job. Drinking to excess had become an unconscious life style, for example, three beers in the hour before a social gathering was a regular occurrence. As he examined his behavior around alcohol, he realized that drinking was his way of distracting himself from the stress in his life. As he began to pay attention to himself and cut back on his drinking, he started confronting the things in his life that were bothering him.

Distraction a Tool For Survival

At times, distraction is a means of survival. For some, the Harsh Inner Critic is so loud that they cannot bear to hear its messages. For others, the wounds from the past are so painful, they have to forget. Distraction allows them to keep these secrets from themselves, as well as from others. To be able to hear that inner voice would take them into overwhelming feelings.

I worked with a man who was adopted, and his mother was abusive. He grew up believing he was worthless, unloved and unlovable. He was isolated without friends and spent his time watching TV. It was only after he began to feel better about himself that he could quit distracting himself, and slowly begin to acknowledge the feelings he had that stemmed from his past.

Distraction is the opposite of Mindfulness. Mindfulness quiets the mind; distraction fills the mind with noise.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” Ram Doss

There are times when distraction is a useful tool to manage our internal emotions. This important tool can become counterproductive when it is used often or as a way of life. It holds us back from who we want to be and the life we want to have, as your “self” gets lost inside: hidden and forbidden. Changing a distracted lifestyle takes time. It cannot be done overnight but it can change with help, support and conscious effort. Need help paying attention to your life? Call me: (919)881-2001.

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