In a world of cell phones, Facebook, and an entire Internet’s worth of cat videos, it’s difficult to keep yourself from getting distracted.
If only we could rid ourselves of all these distractions in our lives! Surely we would be much more productive if we weren’t always just one click away from all the world’s gathered information. But what if it’s not the Internet’s (or any outside source for that matter) fault? What if it’s actually us who actively seek out our own distractions? Well, according to science, distracting ourselves and procrastinating has always been a part of human nature.
Distractions are addictive
We know that distractions are bad for us, and we want to be able to stay productive with the tasks at hand. Why on earth would we actively try to distract ourselves? Because it feels good, that’s why.
Whenever we distract ourselves, be it through watching that hilarious new cat video, or filling out that useless, but oh-so-entertaining personality quiz, our brains release a dose of dopamine. Dopamine is called “the body’s feel good chemical”. Unfortunately for us, dopamine happens to be highly addictive, making us want to come back for more.
That’s why we tend to be so inclined to distract ourselves; we’re literally addicted to it. Every time we procrastinate, we experience a tiny dopamine “high”, making us feel slightly better from the distraction than we would from the daunting task we’re escaping from.
And the stress and anxiety we often experience as we return to work after a bout of procrastination doesn’t exactly help in our brains’ conviction that distraction = good, work = bad.
Why we love distractions
But why does it feel so good to distract ourselves? Why would our brains be so eager to reward us for scrolling through our Facebook timeline?
The simple answer: fear.
Studies have found that whenever our brains experience a sensation of anxiety, stress, or panic (such as from an overwhelming task, or too much work to be done), our bodies interpret these signals to mean impending danger, and triggers a slight fear response.
Although our fear instinct evolved to help us survive in the past, we still have the same reactions to fear today. The typical person attempts to do everything in their power to avoid it. So if we experience a mild fear when confronted with work, our natural reaction is to distract ourselves from it, thereby removing the fear from our lives.
So whenever we’re pressured to get to work, we gladly accept any distraction that comes our way. Because even a temporary refuge of “safety” feels better than tackling the fear head on.
Becoming less vulnerable to distraction
Of course, just because it’s in your nature to distract yourself doesn’t mean you can’t beat it. There are, in fact, many ways to improve your odds of defeating those annoying distractions. And while everyone is affected to different degrees by procrastination, there are some sure-fire ways to help just about anyone get through it.
For instance, simply admitting to yourself that your tendency for distractions is based on fear has been shown to greatly reduce procrastination. This is because simply knowing what is at the root of your distractions, you become much better at fighting them. Similarly, taking steps to reduce the stressful emotions, and by extension, your fear, associated with work has been show to work equally well.
Of course simpler solutions, such as removing any distractions in the first place (blocking your internet access, throwing your phone in a river, etc.) can greatly help your chances as well. Although this requires you to have the discipline to actually carry out these actions in the first place!
But whether your distractions come in the form of mindless internet browsing or long-winded phone calls, the fact remains that you are most likely the one to blame for seeking out your own distractions in the first place.
Featured photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg via flickr.com