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The Real Reason Why You’re Easily Distracted Has Nothing To Do With Technology

The fact that your attention can get so easily pulled away might point to an internal struggle. Here’s how to figure out what’s really going on.

The Real Reason Why You’re Easily Distracted Has Nothing To Do With Technology
[Photo: Eunice Lituañas via Unsplash]

It’s hard to get anything done with all of the push notifications pulling us into other directions. You can find something else to do or think about at any given moment. But maybe the distractions aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s your willingness to be distracted that needs to be examined.

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“Distractions are by-products of a problem,” says Kyle Cease, author of I Hope I Screw This Up: How Falling In Love With Your Fears Can Change the World. “Something outside of you is pulling you away from yourself or a goal. But the distraction is actually on the inside, and what’s going on outside matches what’s going on inside.”

We invite distractions as a way to handle three internal struggles, says Cease.

Using Distractions To Cover Your Fear

Distractions can help you avoid something that makes you afraid, such as trying something new or achieving a big goal. Many of us stay in a place of fear because it’s a way to seek connection, says Cease. “We get a lot of love for feeling doubtful and scared,” he says. “If you go to lunch with friend and you complain, now you’re connecting through complaining. Eventually you may become scared to not complain because you’d lose the feeling of love from that person.”

Fear is an illusion that comes from looking at something you’ve never done. “The nervous system isn’t scared of doing specific things; it’s scared of things it’s never done before,” says Cease. “It believes anything could be death. Everything you’ve already done has proven itself to be safe.”

If you’re about to make a big presentation, for example, and your mind suddenly comes up with the idea, “What if I throw up?” you’re creating an internal distraction to avoid dealing with your fear.

“Immediately your ego shows up, saying ‘You’re not going to throw up,’ helping you with problem it created in the first place,” says Cease. “Instead, look at that fear as a thought passing through. The problem isn’t having the thought, it’s being resistant to the thought and feeling that you need to fix the thought.”

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Instead of creating distractions, embrace the fear, suggests Cease. Go into a new or uncomfortable situation saying, “I hope I screw this up,” or, “What if I screw this up? And I love that.”

“Once you are okay with the problem, it goes away,” he says. “All of a sudden you’re not enslaved to it. Resistance to the problem keeps it there.”

At the time of this interview, Cease, whose speaking tour The Limitation Game has been described as a cross between Jim Carrey and Eckhart Tolle, was preparing for a meeting with a television producer from Oprah Winfrey’s network. “I’m going into the meeting with the idea that I’m okay with screwing up,” he says. “All of a sudden I’m free of boundaries. I don’t need that producer’s approval. I perform much better if I’m okay with it going badly.”

Seeking Distractions Because You’re Insecure

The feeling of not being good enough keeps you from pursuing goals, and seeking distractions could mean you have a lack of awareness of who you are. The first thing to do is to stop thinking you’re incomplete, says Cease.

“Every commercial shows this loser person who then flips the tab of a Budweiser and has bikini women surrounding him,” he says. “You’re not enough is a great starting point. We buy into it because we are horrified that we are enough. Society is built around constant improvement.”

This sense of lacking is often formed in childhood. “We grew up believing that who we are is what our parents think about us,” says Cease. “We tap-danced, performed, or whatever we had to do to get love, and we end up becoming characters, thinking that love comes from avoiding something or moving something or chasing something.”

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Approval has to come from self-connection. “Believing that connection is something outside of yourself causes you to be disconnected,” says Cease.

You Use Distractions For A Sense Of Control

A big cause of stress is trying to control things that you can’t, says Cease. “You can’t control politicians, for example,” he says. “You can control what you do. People pace around, using circumstances outside of themselves as excuses not to step into their own ambitions. There is a lie that things outside of you run you.”

Distractions due to lack of control turn into excuses, blame, and credit. This outward thinking helps you avoid taking action and being vulnerable. “Right now we live in a time where people are starting to see the BS in themselves and the world,” says Cease. “People can see through manipulation and strategies and marketing. The number-one thing they’re looking for is authenticity, and that takes vulnerability.”

Letting go of what you can’t control opens you up to opportunities. “Who am I to say that things have to go this way when there could be a lesson worth way more than the vision I had for myself?” asks Cease.