An Open Dialogue with Distraction

Responding that devious little voice

Jack Purdy
New Writers Welcome

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Created with Dall-E

Originally published at https://examininglife.substack.com.

You wake up, crawl out of bed, make yourself a coffee. Maybe you stretch out, go for a jog, lift some weights. Or perhaps you’re sedentary in the morning idk just run with it. Eventually, you head to your laptop to start the day. Unless you still commute to an office, you caveman.

I digress.

Inevitably, you arrive at the point where the rubber meets the road, where you’re faced with that singular, inescapable thing you need to complete. That which you can’t say no to, delegate, or delay. There’s no getting around it, it’s the Task at Hand.

The Task at Hand has two main components: it requires time + effort. You need to dedicate a substantive amount of time during your day to complete it. And there’s strain involved, be it problem-solving, human coordination, creative expression, whatever the flavor of strain — it’s a challenging endeavor.

The combination of this time and effort expenditure creates some internal friction. It’s a difficult thing to do so you feel some resistance. Absent any outside pressure to complete it, you’d prefer to save up your limited supply of time and effort. But alas, it is the Task at Hand and thus you know you must do it…

But, like, what if you didn’t?

You hear an inner voice whisper with a resonant familiarity. You recall what it was like when you’d listened in the past, succumbing to the temptation, and the subsequent unproductivity infused guilt. You vow not to let that happen again.

“Not falling for it this time, I can’t afford to get distracted.”

Who said anything about distractions? Keep up the work, bud. I’m just curious, hypothetically, if you weren’t working, what things could you be doing instead?

This feels safe. What’s the harm in some innocent ideating all the while you continue working on the Task at Hand. After all, it’s all just hypotheticals, not like it’ll make its way into reality.

“Well, if I wasn’t completing the Task at Hand, I could be doing this or that. Or wait, I could even be doing that. I guess there really are a lot of Other Things I could be doing. But hey thankfully I’m motivated to stay on track.”

Mmmm these are great. So many Other Things you could be doing. Now that we have a list together, have you ever thought about what they’d feel like? If you were to hypothetically stop doing what you’re doing and instead entertain one of these Other Things, how great would that feel?

Now you’re no longer passively brainstorming a list of what you could be doing, you’re playing them out in your head, visualizing what they’d look like, how it’d feel to take a break from the Task at Hand. That sweet succulent relief. Instant dissipation of the built-up tension inherent in any strenuous work. Like racking your weights after a heavy squat. Or a post-yoga savasana. Glorious.

“I see what you’re doing. I’m not going to fall for it.” You snap back, reaffirming your conviction.

This time the inner voice remains quiet. But the thought has already been incepted. You know that the possibility of distracting yourself is all too real. Right there, floating in the ether. Each potential distraction taunts you. Jeering like a pack of hyenas. No, more like a swarm of gnats. Ruthless little fuckers. Whenever you slap one away, another takes its place, pressuring you to succumb to its tantalizing allure.

You know deep down the inescapable nature of the work at hand. You either do it now or create a further problem for future you. But you’re caught in this tug-of-war between willpower and temptation. On one side, a grounded, rational voice telling you what you know to be true. On the other, a whimsical, creative energy conjuring up colorful fantasies of leisure.

Eventually, the temptation becomes too great. The forbidden fruit is too sweet. You reckon a short break won’t kill you.

You close your laptop, take out your phone. The simple act itself is immensely gratifying. The pent-up weight from the challenges of the Task at Hand dissipates immediately.

You pull up Instagram, flooding yourself with the dopamine from looking at lives of people you don’t speak to, getting hit with ads of creepily well-tailored products you probably don’t need. This sucks you into a rabbit hole, adding items to your shopping cart, intermittently responding to admittedly cool animal videos your friend sent. Which reminds you, you’re overdue to give him a call. Better now than later. Next thing you know you’re responding to texts. Checking emails. Making a dentist appointment. Cooking dinner. Booking trips. Paying your energy bill.

By the time you put your phone down you notice your hand is wrinkled, you’ve aged 60 years. Your back hurts, you’re single, broke, and only got a few years left in you. Your to-do list is on the table. At the top, reads your Task at Hand, still unfinished.

Kinda dumb. But hey, sometimes this helps me stay focused.

Originally published at https://examininglife.substack.com.

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Jack Purdy
New Writers Welcome

Writing A Life Examined newsletter | Director of Sales @Messari