The distraction of garbage
“One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship.”
— Siegfried Lenz*
We all have our guilty pleasures. Little indulgences that we allow ourselves, from time to time, to step out from our discipline, planning or strict daily routine. These “slips” work as small stress relievers; short breaks in the midst of the maelstrom; mere excuses to "not think".
We all have them, and we all need them. Some of us more than others but, eventually, every single one of us.
And that, within certain limits, has its positive side. Although there are those who disdain everything that means distracting the focus from the goal (disdain that I share), when I mention that a distraction can be acceptable, I am referring, specifically, to momentary, passing situations that serve as a relief and recharge. Taking our daily routine, work, physical training, commitments, our life itself, very seriously all of the time, is exhausting and unhealthy. A pause, a break, whether mental, emotional, or physical, is not only healthy, but necessary.
Distractions, when controlled and uplifting, are positive. The lack of these characteristics makes them, however, detrimental.
From exception to habit
What is an exception? Going to its most basic definition, it is something that departs from the rule or whatever is ordinary and usual. It lacks, as such, constancy, and repetitiveness. When the time that separates our slips or exceptions shortens until it disappears, they cease to be exceptions to become, almost imperceptibly, rules. And if a slip of our daily discipline begins to be repeated daily, it ceases to be a slip, to become a habit, just as a constant pause becomes statism and continual rest becomes inaction. It is then that the danger of debacle in our lives becomes certain.
It matters little to me to sound over dramatic. Statism, inaction, and consistent lack of growth, only lead us to a path towards a mediocre, frustrating life, plagued by regret.
That, to me, is a debacle. It is our ruin and our misfortune.
Rarely do we stop suddenly or abandon our planning and efforts abruptly. Rarely. Usually, this process is barely noticeable. We seldom make a sudden course change in our lives, but rather begin to move away, one fraction of a degree at a time, from the goal we set up to reach. Thus, on any given day, when we finally look around us with eyes wide opened, we realize we are very far from where we thought we were, either because we changed our course, or just came to an absolute halt. All that, the mere consequence of failing to recognize the moment when a good exception became a bad habit.
The garbage distraction
Today, like never before, we are exposed to an overwhelming amount of information and options. As some experts on the subject have argued, the sheer abundance of choices that we have in front of us, for virtually everything, has resulted in a noticeable decrease in our freedom. The seemingly endless array of distractions our minds are exposed to on a daily basis exerts a damaging pressure on our ability to focus, plan, and be consistent —essential factors, among others, in maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional health.
Many, if not most, of these options are nothing more than foul-smelling garbage.
Spending a couple of minutes a day visiting our social media profiles does not necessarily have to be negative.
Once a day.
A couple of minutes a day.
What happens, however, when minutes turn into hours? All notion of time lost, we allow our index finger to become the trigger for infinite scrolling, searching for the next content, news bit, post, or video. Where did all that time go, and what benefits did it leave us?
What happens when Facebook, Twitter, TikTok or YouTube become the masters of our day, taking over entire hours we could have invested in exercising, reading a good book or, what better than this, sharing quality time with our family and friends?
It is not my intention to say these media channels are exclusively evil, but the use we make of them can become a curse. It is no secret that the interest these companies have lies in seizing our attention. The product that is being fought over on all these platforms is only one: us. Our exclusive and indivisible attention.
Meanwhile, have you ever wondered what benefit these social platforms provide to your life? How do they help you grow? How much do they feed you? How is your existence improved by the hours you spend wallowing in these distractions? The more time goes by and the more we are inundated by all these “social” channels, I can't help but wonder if they are social at all As I stated at the beginning, a good exception can easily turn into a bad habit.
I reiterate once again: not everything on social media is negative. They have helped in the fight for human rights and social equality, making visible sectors of marginalized and neglected populations. They have reunited families and made possible the reunion of old friends. That and more. My problem is that they have also been created to make us addicted to them, enslaving us if we are not careful in the way we use them.
Just as bad is consuming empty and mediocre television content, as well as certain "musical" genres that have nothing of talent, essence, mastery or complexity, that complexity which is the result of years dedicated to the thorough study of this discipline. It harms us and deprives us of the necessary nutrition that our mind and emotions need.
When was the last time you read a book that exposed your mind to new ideas?
How long has it been since you listened to those melodies that inspire or appease you?
Do you remember the last time that, sitting in front of your TV or computer, you felt your convictions challenged by a documentary or movie that invited you to question your ideas?
I will continue to repeat myself: we all have guilty pleasures, whether it's a silly TV show, uninspired music, or a succulent order of junk food.
The problem lies in the exception becoming the rule.
The cost of distraction
How much is an hour of your time worth? Is it possible to put a tag price on something that, once gone, never comes back?
The wasted hours will no longer return, which is why it is of little use to cry over them. What moves me to talk about this is to help you understand that you cannot, you must not, continue to allow yourself the same waste. One of the most damaging feelings in our battle against depression is that of frustration and inability that we often fall prey to. Inability to feel useful, competitive, or worthy of an opportunity. Frustration at our own failures, attempt after attempt piling up, having given room to distractions and lack of discipline.
The lack of self-esteem, love and respect eats away at our minds like a cancer. Those of us who daily fight against the monster of depression, know how small we can feel after a wasted opportunity, or before the loss of something that we achieved after a titanic effort.
I know that feeling, which is why I try to walk in the opposite direction from it, trying to take advantage of every opportunity for growth that comes my way, every opportunity to improve my version of yesterday, every chance to move towards the goal I'm after.
Have I failed? More times that I have succeeded! It's those failures that have taught me. The weight of the cost paid for distractions that became a habit is a constant and hurtful memory and, as I have mentioned on previous occasions, my intention is not to preach, but to share my mistakes, hoping it might help others to avoid them.
Let's dispose of garbage today, not tomorrow
Tomorrow has not arrived, and yesterday has already escaped us. Only this moment is in our hands, more than enough reason to start implementing the necessary adjustments today.
Learn to identify the habits that harm you. Chances are if you do not already know them, detecting them will not be difficult. Abandon them today, not tomorrow.
Get rid of all the waste around you.
Start investing in yourself.
The day is today, and the time is now. Enough distractions already. Enough time wasted.
* Siegfried Lenz (March 17 1926 – October 7 2014) was a German writer of novels, short stories and essays, as well as dramas for radio and the theatre.