Focus and Distraction. The two fighting mental states.
I want to write about a topic that has caught my mind for several weeks now. And that is what is the right amount. Should we focus on specific tasks for some period of time and avoid distractions. Or sometimes we should be distracted and avoid being focused.
My goal for this discussion is to achieve the most amount of mental flow perspective and creativity. I love the work that I do, but it’s hard to keep a strong focus all the time. So, with this post, I want to explore what does focus and distraction mean as mental states and what can we learn from engaging in both sides of the balance.
All over the internet, you will find countless amounts of articles arguing against being distracted. And I agree — being distracted can lead to less productivity overall — but my contention is. Can we sustain total focus in the long term while we engage in our daily work? Is long term focus sustainable? When is it good to allow some distraction and dig ourselves into a rabbit hole?
Let's now explore some common definitions of what it means to be mentally focused.
Being more focused means being able to pay attention to your plan and control the everyday distractions that life puts in your path
Being focused means that you have clear goals and objectives and your work is dedicated to achieving those goals and objectives.
The focused person always strives to do the difficult thing first from their list of priorities. As a result, they are highly productive. They do not postpone decision or action. They hardly procrastinate, what needs to be done today, they do not postpone it until tomorrow.
According to mainstream literature, being focused on the ultimate goal and avoiding distractions and procrastinating are ultimately bad habits, which lead to an unproductive life.
Now, let's explore some definitions of what it means to be mentally distracted.
we tend to use distraction and mind-wandering somewhat interchangeably, or at least recognize that there’s some overlap between them. Some examples of distraction definitely involve mind-wandering: staring out the window rather than paying attention to the teacher, for example, is an example we’re all familiar with.
Distraction is related with Aimlessness which is a product of cognitive overload, of having too many different things competing for your attention and weighing on your mind. This is the state that Nicholas Carr complains about in The Shallows.
There seems to be a clear distinction between when our minds are wandering or being pulled from out focused attention. For example, It’s this absence of a goal, and the absence of pressure to focus on something, that distinguishes wandering from distraction.
Here’s the other reason it matters. Mind-wandering is psychologically restorative, and contributes to your creative energies, in a way that hijacked attention and aimlessness do not. Mind-wandering is what Charles Darwin did during his daily walks, walks that often ended with him so deep in thought that his children played tricks on him to test his concentration. Mind-wandering lets your conscious mind have a break, while allowing your subconscious to keep working, testing combinations, trying out scenarios, without your being aware of it. Mind-wandering isn’t the opposite of focus. It’s more like a complement to it.
Therefore it’s a tricky equilibrium, basically we need to practice and learn to focus on what is necessary, and let ourselfs wander and be distracted when strong focused is not required!
Both are necessary for driving a fuller and more creative mindset.