“Time management is pain management. Everything we do is about a desire to escape discomfort.”
And I break out laughing because I’m not sure whether this statement is always true, but it’s certainly true at the moment I hear it.
Pulling Me In
Eyal continues saying things that might be true. Both the word traction and distraction come from the Latin root trahere, which means to pull. I think of a tractor, which pulls farm equipment and a bad skiing accident that might land me in traction.
So it only makes sense that in order to get distracted, you must first be performing an action that is pulling you in an intended direction.
The subtitle to Eyal’s book Indistractible is How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, so where I pull is up to me.
Right now, setting the table, putting the bacon in the microwave, watching the hashbrowns, and waiting to start the eggs are all pulling me toward breakfast. Traction.
Right now, any activity that isn’t pulling in this direction would be distraction.
I wonder for a moment whether the podcast episode I’m listening to is a distraction. It’s not pulling me away from anything that I’m doing to get breakfast on the table, so I determine that it isn’t.
Turning My Values into Time
In order to know what traction and distraction look like at any given moment, I need to start by turning my values into time.
Love: Loosely defined as human connection. I block out an hour from 12:30-1:30 pm each Wednesday for a “Connection Hour” Zoom Meetup.
Play: Community member Sam currently hosts a Game Night on Tuesdays and I block out 6:30-8:30 pm just for the fun of it.
Work: Monday-Friday, I use the Pomodoro Technique so that I can block out 25-minute chunks of time (interspersed with 5-minute breaks) to pull in the direction of specific, defined tasks, which I write down at the beginning of each period.
When I catch myself doing something else during these times, I know I’m distracted.
Internal and External Triggers and Problems
According to Eyal, there are only three sources of distraction: internal triggers, external triggers, and problems.
I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but I like the HALT acronym as a starting point for internal discomfort signals. Hungry Angry Lonely and Tired. Others might include Boredom, Frustration, Uncertainty.
External triggers might include ping notifications from phones and computers informing me my urgent attention is required. It might also include having too many apps open, too many things on my desk vying for my attention, etc. Eyal says the most common external trigger in many workplaces is a side effect of the open office floor plan: people stopping by to talk.
Problems include tools and unanticipated events. Right now, my work is dependent on my Scrivener app, monitor, electricity, and keyboard working. If the tools or information I need to continue with a given task for the designated period of time aren’t available, I can get distracted by a problem. If the smoke alarm goes off or I notice water on the floor, I’ll probably stop for that too.
Example: I caught myself (playing Tetris).
Instead of doing what I had planned, which was (initial edits of the rough draft of this blog post).
The trigger was (internal).
I was feeling a little (afternoon fatigue).
Possible solution: ______________.
Note: The same afternoon fatigue that lured me into playing Tetris prevents me from coming up with a good solution right now. But that’s okay. Every distraction that I track gives me insight into how, when, and why I get distracted. By blocking out a few minutes each week (after I review my Love/Play/Work/Health dashboard), I can begin making baby steps toward becoming indistractible.
Is Tetris Traction or Distraction?
What I like about this time management tool is that it’s not about maximizing productivity. It’s about maximizing choice. If I schedule time to play Tetris (or watch Netflix or any other activity) just for the fun of it, or to stop thinking about work at the end of the day, it can be my traction.
As a bonus, by blocking out time for it, I’ll actually enjoy it more because I won’t feel guilty thinking about all the other things I could be doing. And if I do, I’ll just enter them in my distraction tracker.
Explore the Distraction Tracker Well-Being Habit
1. Block out a small chunk of time once a week. Maybe 5 minutes for starters?
After my 11:00 a.m. Secular Buddhism Zoom Call on Sunday.
The first part of the World Health Organization’s definition of mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual can achieve his or her potential.
I refused the call of exploring potential because the idea that we’re not living up to our potential, or constantly questioning whether we are, is the opposite of self-acceptance, which is essential to well-being…and, ironically, realizing our potential.
But about six months ago, I crossed the threshold of exploring potential by changing the context of realize from achieve or fulfill to recognize or understand.
One of my allies was I Hate Happiness community member Sam. While helping her edit a book about her transformational journey, I revisited the outline of my mentor Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” And instead of re-tracing the tests of my own “Hero’s Journey” by re-reading tons of world mythology I found an ally in RAW Spirituality, which posted this explainer video.
I still struggled with three words relating to potential: individual,his, and her. It bothered me that the gendered pronouns left some people out, but my greatest ordeal was with the word individual. This seemed to contradict the essence of the hero’s journey.
“Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”– Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
I allowed the idea of individual potential to die and be reborn as our potential.
Return with the Elixir
The reward was the idea that realizing our potential may not lie in pondering what remains to be achieved but in reflecting on what it took to come as far as we have.
Explore the “12 Questions” Well-Being Habit
Option 1: Conversation
Since potential is not an individual journey, I first tried these 12 questions in conversation: taking turns asking questions and allowing both parties to answer.
Option 2: Writing Prompts
The reward from this conversation was the insight that the questions could also be used as journal prompts. I tested this by using that first conversation as my transformational insight and quickly answered the 12 questions in about 12 minutes.
Begin by calling to mind any transformative skill or insight from your life.
(An example from early life might be learning to tie your shoes.)
The Ordinary World
1. What was your life like before your transformation?
(I often tripped over my shoelaces and it was hard for me to walk or run.)
Call to Adventure
2. Name an experience or opportunity that made you aware of a new skill or insight.
(I observed my older brother tie his shoes and walk without tripping as much.)
Refusal of the Call
3. What fears, insecurities, resistance, or circumstances prevented you from pursuing this at the time?
(I couldn’t remember the steps, so I gave up.)
Meeting with the Mentor
4. Name an inspirational figure (perhaps a teacher, colleague, friend, author, or public figure) who helped you see the possibilities?
(My mom figured out how to show me how to tie shoes from “my” perspective.)
Crossing the First Threshold
5. How did you first test the waters?
(I tried to tie my shoes after nap time without asking for my teacher’s help.)
Tests, Allies and Enemies
6. Name some tests you faced. Who were your (internal or external) allies? Who were your (internal or external) enemies?
(I accidentally pulled the shoelace wrong and created a knot. An ally with patience helped me undo it and try again. An enemy was a fellow student who taunted me by telling me I’d never be a shoe-tyer…if that’s even a word.)
Approach to the Inner-Most Cave
7. Name a fear or doubt that arose as you got closer to attaining your skill or insight?
(Each time the bow came untied I feared I’d spend my whole life tripping over shoelaces.)
The Ordeal, Death & Rebirth
8. What did you ultimately have to let go of to become the person you are today?
(I finally let go of tying a single bow and relearned a double knot technique to decrease the chance of the shoelace untying.)
The Reward, Seizing the Sword
9. What was the reward for letting go?
(I could look out and notice new things in the world around me instead of constantly watching my feet to make sure I wouldn’t trip.)
The Road Back
10. How did you integrate the reward into your new life?
(I started walking and running more.)
11. How did integrating that reward transform you?
(I internalized the confidence of being an expert shoe-tyer as proof that I could learn other daunting skills.)
Return with the Elixir
12. How has your personal transformation changed the lives of others?
(I showed others how to tie their shoes by incorporating what had made sense to me.)
The Journey is a Circle
The Hero’s Journey is cyclical, not linear. What is your ordinary life now? Have you experienced a call to adventure that you’ve been refusing lately? What are your fears? Who are your allies? What are the potential rewards?
I used to kick myself for lack of willpower when I fell back on bad habits or failed to keep good ones. But, according to behavioral scientist BJ Fogg, “I change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.”
An Old Dog Learns New Tricks
On Monday I read about a new way to convert dog years into human years. According to the old calculation I’m an 8-year-old dog. According to the new formula, I am 6 years and 7 months.
Either way, I am an old dog.
Yet, aside from learning the new dog age conversion trick, which I can’t remember how to do without referring to the instructions. I’ve successfully learned two new tricks, and turned them into habits.
Trick #1: After I get out of bed, I say the phrase, “It’s gonna be a great day.” (Don’t stop reading yet. I haven’t turned into a motivational speaker!)
Trick #2: After I comb my hair, I drink a 16 oz. glass of water.
Almost none of our failures are a matter of life or death. But, when we fail, we believe that others will think less of us. Or, if we fail in private, we’ll think less of ourselves.
My friend Samantha Hess had a sentiment on one of the walls of her old studio: “What would you do if it was impossible to fail?”
BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits doesn’t make it impossible to fail. But, it makes it extremely easy to succeed, and it takes all the the sting out of failure.
Take Your Aspirations and Break them Down into Tiny Behaviors
I’ve known since I was in grammar or high school that I was supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day. And I did it for a while when a health-conscious co-worker got me to join her in draining 32 oz. bottles that we filled once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
But that was decades ago, and I stopped paying attention to water altogether until I heard a neuroscientist/nutritionist explain that the 8 glasses a day prevented brain dehydration, which can lead to fatigue or migraine headaches. I don’t get migraines, but it would be nice to experience less fatigue.
I already have a habit of keeping a 16 oz. glass by my desk while I work. Filling it with water and drinking it seems a tiny enough behavior to accomplish on the way to my 64 oz. aspiration. And it’s also a tiny enough that I won’t beat myself up if I forget.
Find Where a Behavior Fits Naturally into Your Life
Everyone I’ve told about the habit of putting my feet on the floor, saying “It’s gonna be a great day,” and celebrating, thinks it’s silly. But, silly or not, each time I execute it, it reminds me both that I am capable of forming a new habit (even one that I don’t fully believe in) and carrying out the steps required to remember it.
After I put my feet on the floor is a natural time to say “It’s gonna be a great day.”
A natural opportunity for drinking 16 oz. of water occurs after I’ve dressed, peed, and combed my hair. There’s a sink beneath the mirror and the glass is in my office next door.
So, after I…comb my hair.
I will…fill my 16 oz. glass with water and drink it.
Nurture its Growth Through Celebration
I celebrate drinking the water by raising my hands in the air like a victorious Olympic athlete and saying “Woo-hoo!”
How we choose to celebrate is up to individual preference. I chose the same form of celebration that Olympic athletes use (plus the “Woo-hoo!”) because I remember hearing that it’s a form of celebration that exists in all cultures.
The reason for celebrating even tiny successes is that the good feeling cues the hippocampus to store the preceding event as a keeper.
To keep the water metaphor going, if we were wandering a desert dying of thirst, it would feel mighty good to find a water hole. And remembering where that water hole was located might be crucial to the survival of our tribe!
Embrace Mistakes as Discoveries and Use Them to Move Forward
I have some pills that I’m supposed to take with a full glass of water later in the morning. So, that’s a second natural prompt in my day. But, I’ve had to experiment with prompts for the remaining 32 ounces.
Some complicating factors include schedule variability, the availability of bathroom facilities after the consumption of water, etc.
I don’t take any of my failed attempts personally.
The aspiration to replenish needed water to ease mental fatigue seems worthwhile to me. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be an aspiration, and I could choose another habit.
If I had trouble with drinking 16 oz. of water, I could make the task tinier by trying an 8 oz. or even a 4 oz. glass.
If I couldn’t even manage to stick the “It’s gonna be a great day!” habit, I could experiment with different forms of celebration.
The idea is to look at the process as a scientist would. Every failure suggests a new experiment.
Ten Minute Exercise
Another concept BJ Fogg introduces is called a Swarm of Bs. Here’s a ten minute version based on the aspiration for this website.
1. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
2. Take out a sheet of paper and something to write with.
3. In the center of the piece of paper, draw a cloud and write down an aspiration.