If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. ―Hilary Mantel
Art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction. ―Saul Bellow
Have you ever noticed how children stop crying? They stop because something distracts them. Something calls them to the next adventure. —Paulo Coelho
Distraction isn’t inherently bad. It’s not necessarily destructive, either. A distraction—anything that turns your attention from it’s current focus—keeps you from getting out of your car in a sketchy place. When someone runs a red light, it makes you stop despite your WALK sign. It allows you to smell passing roses, hear a baby’s cry, process all kinds of potentially valuable new information.
And more than just a pre-cognitive, knee-jerk survival mechanism, you can use distraction as a healthy tool. You may read a book under your desk when you’re bored in class, soothe impatience with slow breathing, calm upset with music. These are all engaging, constructive activities that satisfy your use of time, relieve anxiety, soothe nerves on fire. Did you know that cutting-edge psychologists teach distraction techniques to people who get overwhelmed by emotion? Distraction can be a release valve, letting off pressure before you explode.
Habitual distraction is less constructive. Rather than intervening with new info or breathing room at a critical moment, it’s an attempt to avoid any unpleasantness entirely. Which, as Newton knew, is impossible. A corset confines your breath as well as your flesh. Skip breakfast and drag till lunch. Energy isn’t created or destroyed, it’s transferred. Sooner or later, whatever you’re avoiding will catch up with you. By meeting it on your own terms you hurt less and grow stronger.
Meeting competition with a steady gaze is paying attention. Ducking your head over electronics when you’re with people is distracting to avoid engagement. Listening to criticism to see if any of it might help you is paying attention. Turning music up when someone starts a conversation you don’t want to have is distracting to avoid engagement.
Have you noticed that paying attention requires bravery?
This, then, is the diamond that cuts all other stones: attention facilitates happiness. It opens a door that thoughtless distraction closes. It’s powerful and easily misplaced.
Conventional wisdom says work hard to make money so you can buy time to enjoy yourself—that is, to pay attention to whatever you’d like. No mention of biting it before your someday comes. No mention of paying attention to whatever you’d like right now.
Like you, attention is valuable and vulnerable; it can’t be hoarded or replaced. How you invest yours is up to you—and you can start right now.
Special thanks to Jason/mrt0o for permission to use his work “Bokeh Bubbles”, seen above.