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How to Overcome Distractions

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How to Overcome Distractions


    Many people write to me regarding their inability to carry out their resolve, their vow, to work right to the end, until their goal is accomplished. They are motivated, they have wisdom, resources, capability, yet they let distractions overpower them. Such distractions that cause a tide of emotions to rise, a tsunami of desires, shaking their resolve and crushing their strength to stay course, to stay firm. Yogic and vedic texts talk a great deal about vikṣiptatā, distractions, and how they are great obstacles. They can make all the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure.

    Let me help you understand distractions and ways to overcome them. They are of two types, as follows:

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    1. External distractions triggering inner reactions

    Let us assume, you committed to being a vegetarian and giving up alcohol. Everything was going fine until you were invited to that get together you could not afford to skip. Platters of your once favorite non-vegetarian dishes as well as vintage wine adorned the dining table. You feel tempted. Further, your folks around you force you to have some. You are given all sorts of reasoning and arguments to partake of what is at hand and not worry about your vow. Under social pressure and your own latent desire, you give into the temptations.

    In this case, an external environment, sighting of delicious food, triggered a whole heap of thoughts that weakened your resolve. Till you came to the party, you were at ease, but now, suddenly your inner world is in a turmoil and you let your heart rule your mind. In every likelihood, a sense of guilt will drape you soon after the party. Guilt weakens one’s consciousness.

    There are two ways to emerge winner while battling against external distractions:

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    • Remove yourself physically. A conducive environment helps a great deal in executing any plan. In the present example, avoid going to such places, parties where it is but natural that you will be offered everything contrary to what’s good for you. After all, chances of emerging spotless working in coal mines are but remote. Unless of course, you exercise great caution, extraordinary care. If changing your physical environment is not possible sometimes, follow step b, as below:
    • Make yourself clear. Granted, some people may think you are arrogant, or that, you no longer care, or that you have changed and so forth. Let them. Trust me, let them. If they really love you, they will not think any of these things and if they do not, does it matter anyway what they think? Ultimately, it is you alone who will be bearing the consequences, paying for your choices, at that time, no one else will be able to help you. So, stand by what you stand for. This always worked for me; before I renounced, for years I attended events of all sorts but never even once did I compromise on my own principles. People around me understood and accepted it.

    2. Inner thoughts triggering external actions

    Distractions of this type can be equally hard to manage. For example, let us say, you recently quit smoking. Day-in-day-out, you were living upto your own expectations and you did not smoke for ten days. One day, out of the blue, you just recollect the image of a cigarette, you try hard to not think of smoking but cigarette is what keeps coming back to your mind. You experience restlessness and the compulsion to smoke. The thought of smoking overpowers you to the degree that you get up and buy yourself a pack.

    There are two ways to overcome distraction of this type:

    • Take your mind off. Do not think about not doing the prohibited, instead just take a deep breath and focus your mind elsewhere. You cannot overcome thoughts of non-action by thinking about not acting on it! You must simply, gently, shift the spotlight of your thoughts. Change the scenery, get up, move around, win over a distraction with another one, a better one, if necessary. Do whatever it takes but do not give into the temptation.
    • Exercise patience (postpone). This method is more powerful than you might think. Just give your mind a bait, tell your mind that you will revisit the idea after an hour or two hours or something like that. Just let the storm of distraction pass, let your thoughts settle, let your mind calm down. If you can rein the horses while distraction comes attacking, you will remain focused, winning the battle. You will emerge a winner, stronger and a more confident person.

    Now, regardless of the nature of distraction, let me share with you the two most potent questions you can ask yourself to help you make the right decision, always. Yes, always.

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    1. Is this my best move? A chess grandmaster unfailingly asks one question before making each move in chess, and that is, is this my best move? That often prompts the player to think more, think better, think out-of-the-box and come up with extraordinary moves. Before you give in to a temptation, just before you decide to do something, a moment before taking an action, ask yourself: is this my best move, or, can I play better? If you are honest with yourself, you will find it easy to dissipate your distractions with minimal effort.
    2. What is the most that will happen? One is often not attached to the distraction but the pleasure they get from the fulfillment of such deviation. In removing distractions, you have to ask yourself the golden question- “what’s the most that will happen?”. Let us say you are distracted and really want to smoke, ask yourself, what’s the most that will happen? An ephemeral pleasure of a few hours, if that? Is that it? Is that enough to justify you compromising on your resolve? And if so, is that your best move!?

    Do you know who is your greatest friend, the one who can always stand by you and help you make the right decisions and make sure you tread the noble path? You.

    And your worst enemy? You.

    Ātmaiva hyātmanō bandhurātmaiva ripurātmanaḥ… (Bhagavad Gita, 6.5)

    You alone are your best friend and your own worst enemy.

    (Photo credit: Compass via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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