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How to Overcome Distractions

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 February 21, 2019

    How to Stop Information Overload

    How to Stop Information Overload

    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

    And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this:

    Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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