While doing your work, have you ever suddenly discovered yourself dicking around watching Youtube videos, browsing social media, or doing anything other than your work?
The recent technological advancements have made getting distracted easier, but distraction has existed as long as people have. So, we can’t put all the blame on smartphones.
Therefore, even if you put your phone out of sight and do everything you can to do your work, you can still get distracted.
It’s built into us. We’re hardwired to get distracted. We get bored doing the same thing and look for new things as they might provide more value to us - at least from an evolutionary point of view.
We don’t get distracted when we’re immersed in our work. When we’re fully engaged and in a state of flow. However, when we’re doing something we’d rather not do, we get distracted because it’s uncomfortable for us.
Needless to say, we can’t always only do comfortable things. Even if our brain doesn’t care about us getting that project done and thinks it’s better for us just to relax and watch a video. Sometimes, we have to do things that are uncomfortable in the present but offer great rewards in the long run.
Usually, distraction happens so smoothly. We don’t even realize it when it happens. It’s as if we’re doing it on autopilot. Well, it kind of is.
Every time you get distracted, there’s a trigger that acts like a call to action for your brain. These triggers can be a simple notification sound on your phone or simply a thought that comes up.
We act on these triggers almost automatically because we’re used to doing that. If every time there’s a certain trigger you do something, then your brain forms pathways, and that thing becomes a habit.
The key to not get distracted is first to understand the triggers - your triggers. Every time you do get distracted and realize it, ask yourself: “what caused me to get distracted?”. The answer to that question is the trigger.
Understanding the cause(s) behind your distraction teaches you to recognize them early on. Before your basal ganglia takes over the driver’s seat, you say: “Wait a minute, this is not what we’re going to do” and continue your work instead.
The more you train your prefrontal cortex by not immediately reacting to triggers, the stronger it gets, and the easier it becomes to resist these thoughts.
Some practical tips:
- Learn about the triggers that get you distracted. You start to identify the moments when you’re about to distract yourself from the task at hand.
- Train your PFC to not act upon these triggers. Meditation is also a very powerful way to train your PFC. Think of it this way: every time you react on a trigger, you train your brain to do that. Every time you don’t react, you train that action instead.
- Get a pen and a notepad or a piece of paper where you can write down your ideas and thoughts. Have them next to you when doing your work. When a thought comes to your mind, simply write it down and continue your work. E.g., if you want to google something, just write it down. You may later discover that many of the things you wanted to do are not that important, after all.