It’s Not Just The Techies Games: It’s Our Response That Counts - Controlling Procrastina

Last Update: December 16, 2021

Stimulated by Nir Eyal's book - "in-distract-able"

There has been a great deal of criticism of Big-Tech manipulation of the masses in recent years.

"They" are accused of manipulating the human psyche to achieve what they want.

There's some truth in that. However, we all (well, perhaps almost all) have the ability to make decisions for ourselves.

As adults at least, we don't have to follow suggestions and we don't have to follow other people's directions. That's not to say that following others is wrong (especially for example when learning is involved, or there are legal constraints).

It's more that, following others should be consciously thought through more carefully at times, before taking action. Sometimes we are side-tracked and at other times led into a time of pure procrastination.

A big difference between now and when I was younger is the abundance of distractions, and wealth of opportunities, that come our way, especially through the internet. It's all too easy to be distracted away from our action plan. The sheer volume of distractions and opportunities today is increasing exponentially.

There are good times to take it easy, relax, have entertaining fun; but in modern times, avoidance of distractions, when appropriate, is fast becoming something of a superpower.

A great example is the design of YouTube. I do some research, discover a very useful YouTube video to watch and up pops a list of other, mostly unrelated videos that I'm especially attracted to. It takes an iron will to ignore them and to simply close down YouTube when I finish watching what I wanted. Mostly, I win my internal battle but every now and again, I lose an hour or more with unplanned entertainment.

I used to be far more easily distracted when I was younger; often through the emotional effect of boredom. I'm far more aware of myself and what's happening at any moment than I used to be. Yet I still go down the rabbit hole every now and again.

Although the internet has many useful and valuable purposes, I'm somewhat grateful that it didn't gain proper traction until I was nearly 50 years old.

Nonetheless, a question in my mind is about how much I might have achieved throughout my life had I had the power to avoid distractions?

There are times when I can be easily manipulated. However, I'm not powerless and I know that when I follow the entertainment path to procrastination (as in the YouTube example) it's because I decided to allow myself to be distracted.

Yes, it was a decision that I could have made differently. Procrastination is the result.

Now, here's the thing ....

The Psychology Of Distraction

We are all motivated by a combination of "sticks and carrots". As with any donkey (I'm not really saying we're all donkeys...), we try to avoid the stick and we're attracted to the carrot.

Part of the Nir Eyal's book is devoted to the psychology that leads to distraction. It's interesting to realise that our pleasure-seeking is driven more by us avoiding the stick of discomfort as opposed to seeking pleasure.

From my knowledge of how the brain and subconscious mind works, we tend to cling to negative experiences far longer than the experience of positives.

Uncomfortable emotions triggered by fears of failure or success, the fear of missing out (FOMO), perceived difficult tasks, worries about all kinds of negative possibilities etc, create the relative perception that attractive distractions are far more valuable to us than they really are. I had to read that sentence several times after I'd written it to make sure it makes sense!

It's only too easy nowadays to handle negative feelings by distracting ourselves, often via some form of convenient technology such as the smartphone, computer or television.

Unfortunately, most of us aren't self-aware enough to notice when this is happening. Then we tend to feel the guilt later when we realise the amount of time we've used up with things that we hadn't intended; thereby adding to the sense of discomfort.

Going Against The Flow

Another factor that you may have noticed is that emotions behave like tides. They ebb and flow, or perhaps strictly speaking they flow and ebb (they come and go).

If you notice when an emotion tries to lead you astray, and give yourself time without reacting to it, after a short period the trigger is much less powerful.

Two Steps Towards Handling Distractions

  1. The key to avoiding unnecessary distractions is to notice what triggers our reactions. This level of awareness, where it doesn't currently exist, can be developed with practice. Here's a post that may help with becoming aware ...

    In addition to practicing mindfulness (as suggested in the linked post) I find journaling is a useful habit. By journaling, I simply mean the habit of writing things down. Simply writing a note that records when I was distracted, led to me noticing more of the triggers (internally generated emotions) that led to my decision to distract myself from my course of action at that moment. Then I started writing down the triggers as well.

    I find that the act of writing something down ... not an essay, just a bullet point ... helps me become aware enough to notice when it happens again. Over time my level of awareness increases.

  2. When I notice a triggered reaction (feeling that I'd be good to do something that I hadn't planned to do ... i.e. to allow myself to be distracted) I then decide to take a little time before allowing the distraction. I decide to spend 10 minutes focused on something useful.

    I've found that focusing on something useful for 10 minutes often leads to me forgetting the distraction.

    What's more, I also find that if I commit 10 minutes to something that I'm not looking forward to doing, getting started invariably leads to it getting done. The 10 minutes soon passes and I keep on until it's completed.

Summary

So, becoming more self-aware, and making useful decisions is the key to minimising distractions and procrastination.

If you have other ways of achieving self-awareness and making useful decisions that lead to useful action ... please share them!

If you have anything else to add ... I look forward to your comments.
:-)
Richard

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JeffreyBrown Premium Plus
Excellent post, Richard, arthough, distractions aren't necessarily a bad thing unless you believe that they are!

Jeff
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richardgb Premium
Hi Jeff ... thanks for coming back.
I agree ... so long as the distraction is adding value it can be a good thing.

For me, it's important that I am aware of the impact of a distraction. I'm not suggesting a right or wrong here ... just that the more we do deliberately, the more likely we are to achieve whatever it is we want to achieve.

Of course, there are many people who don't want to achieve a lot. There's nothing wrong with that at all. To such people, distractions and procrastination perhaps don't exist and really don't matter.
:-)
Richard
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JeffreyBrown Premium Plus
Thanks for the clarification, Richard!

I guess it sums it up to say "to each their own" as long as that individual is happy!

For many, myself included, my work is my primary enjoyment, but I do allow for distractions, since many of my distractions also make me money!

Have an excellent day!

Jeff
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richardgb Premium
Well, Jeff ... if it's earning you money I wouldn't call that a distraction ... it seems pretty deliberate to me!

Of course, such demands on time are not always convenient (as I've noticed from your blog posts) but if earning money they're useful distractions.
:-)
Richard
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JeffreyBrown Premium Plus
Thanks, Richard! An unwelcome distraction today is me discovering storm damage at two properties and I am now jumping through hoops to affect temporary repairs!

I hope you have an excellent day, my friend!

Jeff
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richardgb Premium
They're the kind of distractions you could do without at any time! I hope all goes well.
:-)
Richard
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JeffreyBrown Premium Plus
Very true, Richard, and thanks! I appreciate it!

Jeff
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MYJones Premium
Richard, the part about how people can be distracted on YouTube had me nodding my head quite enthusiastically, because that's definitely the case with me!

Thank you for a very pertinent blog entry.

Margaret
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richardgb Premium
Hey, Margaret ... thanks for that feedback. I'm sure we're not the only ones!
:-)
Richard
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MYJones Premium
Richard, I’m sure you’re right! 😁
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Newme202 Premium
Lovely blog and explanations, Richard
I have a question.;)
What if you already know the distractions, the triggers etc but you're not bothered about procrastinating a bit because you see it or use it as a form of unwinding?
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richardgb Premium
Hi Simone. Thanks for coming back with a great question.

There are several different definitions for the meaning of procrastination. The one I go with is something like: "an act of unnecessarily postponing something that has been committed to, such that it does not get done in a reasonable time."

As I say in the post: "There are good times to take it easy, relax, have entertaining fun".

So to me, deliberately taking time out is important and appropriate so long as important commitments are not missed.

This is very personal since any commitment we make are made by us ... they may well be influenced by all kinds of external factors however, often, the only person we let down is ourselves.

I think doing things deliberately is the key. I'm far from perfect of course ... but I'd say I'm always doing something, even if I'm just relaxing watching a film, or sleeping I try to do everything with a deliberate intention.
:-)
Richard
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Newme202 Premium
Well.said, Richard
Thank you for your awesome response :)
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ElodieF4321 Premium
Thank you for sharing.
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richardgb Premium
You're welcome Elodie. Thank you for responding.
:-)
Richard
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CherryRed20 Premium
Great blog Richard.

Thanks for sharing!

Myra
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richardgb Premium
Thanks for reading and commenting, Myra! Appreciated.
:-)
Richard
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