How many times have you been distracted from work by a Youtube video, or pulled out your phone on the elevator to avoid talking to the person standing next to you? Yesterday, I did both multiple times alone.
Instead of buckling down and starting a task or engaging with a stranger, I choose to do something comfortable, because it's easy.
But doing something that is easy, comfortable, even habitual, is only half of the problem. The other reason I do these things is because I'm constantly being bombarded by distractions, all of which are accessible with the push of a button.
Want friends? Check Facebook.
Want food? Deliveroo. UberEats. Seamless.
Pictures of food and sunsets? Instagram.
Want love, sex or something in-between? Bumble. Tinder. Hinge.
I can access anything, talk to anybody, do anything in seconds; and so can you.
Today we live in a world in which technology rules practically everything around us. The Internet is widely available (at least in the Western world), and most people now have the ability to go online at any time.
In Australia, 68% of adults aged 18 to 44 are using three or more devices to access the internet. In the U.S., 68% of adults 18 and older have a smartphone, and 45% own a tablet. The average UK adult uses media and communications services for 8 hours 45 minutes a day and sleeps for 8 hours 18 minutes.
Every day, humanity grows more and more reliant on technology to make simple decisions and to get from point A to point B. It is easy to brush off this increase in internet usage and connected activity as just a sign of the times, but many are starting to see the negative impact of this reliance on technology.
According to a survey from Harris Poll, 45% of US adults try to unplug from the internet at least once a week. Ofcom reports that over 30% of UK adults reported that they had tried a digital detox. In Australia, “tech free tourism” is growing in popularity, and companies selling digital detox travel packages have seen increases in sales over the last several years.
Needless to say, we live in a world filled with distractions and infinite choices. By simplifying your life and reducing the number of decisions you have to make every day can you begin to maintain a higher level of motivation to reach your goals.
3 reasons why reducing distractions can bring about a major shift in your life:
1. Fewer choices mean you are more likely to reach your goals
More and more people are suffering from decision fatigue. By reducing the number of choices you have to make in a given day, you can actually boost the likelihood of reaching your goals. Steve Jobs famously did this by wearing the same outfit every day. Another way to reduce decision fatigue would be to delete distractions such as social media or games from your phone.
According to research from Stanford University professor Szu-chi Huang, reducing the number of decisions you have to make to reach a goal greatly improves the chance that you will actually reach that goal.
“When people are close to the end of a pursuit, they ask, ‘How do I speed to the end?’ Offering choices undermines people’s motivation at this stage because it makes answering that question harder.” says Huang.
Professor Clifford Nass and two of his colleagues at Stanford’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab also found evidence that self-described “multi-taskers” were less likely to be able to pay attention to the task at hand and were more likely to be distracted by irrelevant information.
2. It’s better for your mental health
Cutting down on things like social media will make you a much happier person. Not only will it give you a reason to go outside and interact with other people face-to-face, it can do wonders for your self-esteem.
You’ve probably heard of FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. This is a major factor driving people’s addiction to social media. The reason FOMO is so powerful is because it taps into two major human motivations identified by Abraham Maslow: self-esteem and belonging. People want to feel like they’re a part of something larger than themselves like they’re an accepted member of the community, and like they matter as individuals.
While the jury is still out on the long-term effects of social media usage in connection with mental health, some researchers have drawn conclusions that extended periods of social network exposure can lead to diminished self-esteem or even symptoms of depression.
One meta-study published in the 2014 Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, found that most studies showed some correlation between high social media network usage and instances of low self-esteem and depression.
3. It makes you more creative and your output better
People who experience fewer digital distractions are often better positioned to adopt practices that have proven to increase creativity and problem-solving skills. Practices like mindfulness and mindful meditation have grown in popularity (even among startup founders) in recent years.
In one study of mindfulness and cognitive rigidity, researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Israel conducted two experiments on participants to measure their ability to think creatively and solve problems in unique ways. In one experiment, participants were split into two groups. One group received mindfulness training, while the other did not. They were then asked to complete a “brain teaser” task.
What do you think happened? Those that received the mindfulness training were far more likely to think “outside the box” and avoided being blinded by previous experiences. They were able to live in the moment and were thus able to come up with unique solutions to the problem.
Finding a long-lasting source of motivation is never easy, but you can improve your chances of getting motivated and staying that way by embracing simplicity. For instance, try to limit yourself to an hour of unstructured time on social media per day. Also, consider creating a block of time each day to practice some form of mindful meditation.
The key is to work on reducing the noise by focusing on interactions that add value to your life. Every little bit counts and every day that you are able to reduce the noise by even 1% is likely to increase your productivity, your level of motivation, and your ability to focus on the task at hand exponentially.