March 7, 2017

How to Minimize Distractions and Stay Focused

I want to live a life with meaning. Time slows back for no one, and I don’t want to look back on mine wondering how much was wasted. I want to focus on my life’s purpose, and that means cutting out distractions.

And that’s going to take discipline.

Success isn’t what separates us from what I want. It’s discipline. Your heart, like mine, may be telling you to be a writer, but achieving that desire is easier than we think. It’s not getting published that makes you a writer. It’s writing.

Writing every day will make you a writer. If you write about the same subject, you will eventually have enough content for a book. Consistency will give you practice and content. Both increase your chance of getting noticed, whether you’re trying to snag an agent or doing your own thing online.

Set a schedule, and regard it as sacred. Behave as though you are what you want to be. Being creative isn’t a noun, but a verb. The only way to be a writer is to write. Painters paint. Singers sing. Builders build. Whether someone is willing to pay us is secondary.

Don’t limit this mindset to careers. If you want to be a more loving person, practice love. Set aside time to call others, volunteer, donate, meditate, read relevant books, or whatever way you can think of cultivate kindness. Love isn’t an innate skill. It’s an ongoing effort.

Staying disciplined is easier when I cut out extraneous activities and commitments.

When I know what I do want to spend my time doing, I can determine what I don’t. That means letting go of activities that aren’t enriching my life.

I enjoyed playing video games when I was a kid, and they continued to help me cope with life shortly after college. But eventually they felt like a barrier between me and wife, who wanted to spend time together but wasn’t adept at most video games. Even during my alone time, I no longer felt good after spending three hours playing a game the way I did after reading or writing. So I stopped gaming.

That’s not to say that I no longer geek out. We have quite the board game collection. They are a form of entertainment that bring my wife and I closer together and regularly give us a reason to interact with friends. They’re more welcoming to newbies, and they encourage everyone to look each other in the eyes. They’ve created a sense of community in my life, rather than isolation.

This isn’t only a matter of hobbies. I’ve turned down income opportunities because making money writing is less important to me than writing about what I care about. Writing more copy may be practice, but it may also mean writing less fiction.

Time is limited, and every action is a trade off. If you’re promising every friend and family member that you will help them out, you won’t have time to tend to your own needs. And when you do have a few moments of leisure time, you’re more likely to binge TV or spend your time looking at social media pictures because you’re too spent to do anything else.

Removing sources of mindlessness can add hours to each day.

Do you know that feeling where you don’t recall what has happened to or around you for the past few minutes or hours? That’s mindlessness. It’s the opposite of mindfulness, which is being engaged with the sensations of the hear and now.

Watching TV or browsing social media are two of the most common forms of mindlessness. Each can make an hour go by in a matter of minutes. Either enable me to lose an entire afternoon without realizing it, and unlike reading a book, I rarely feel better off afterward.

Mindlessness can set in even when you’re trying to enrich yourself. As a political science major, I developed a dependency on following current events. I have since felt compelled to follow world events daily. Yet while staying informed sounds more noble than scanning Netflix, it’s just as easy to lose track of time. Plus digesting a never-ending stream of information and letting it stir my emotions diminishes my creativity. Only when I limit my news consumption do I enter a frame of mind where I can imagine a project and see it through.

I have to to create a space where I can focus.

Clutter stresses me out. A messy room fills me with anxiety and sets my nervous system on edge. At the same time, I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning. I know how, and I’m good at it, but I rather do something else.

The solution for me is owning less. The fewer items in my space, the fewer I have to take care of. The less often I have to wipe a surface down, stick something in the washing machine, or pick something up off the floor. The less time spent taking care of my space, the more time I can spend in my space living the life I want.

Only you know what kind of space you need. I don’t need a big house, but having an extra room does make it easier to practice martial arts and yoga. Some people work better as nomads that aren’t tethered down to any location.

What you consider freeing depends on your life experience and what you value. If your entire day is spent maintaining your over-sized home, you may benefit from having less space. If your family is tripping over one another, you might need more.

This is one commitment that’s worth whatever it takes.

Living by my terms is an ongoing commitment, because it’s far too easy to fall back into the mold of living how someone else wants me to. Buy more, make less, and consume whatever ideas someone thinks appeals to my demographic.

Many of the distractions I’ve removed from my life are easy to keep out. I feel zero desire to recreate a social media account, nor do I feel like I’m missing out. I’ve gained so much, in time and emotional health, from not comparing myself to idealized versions of other people or trying to think of how to get likes.

It takes active effort though not to begin my day by listening to the news. Yet each time I do, it takes hours to return myself to the creative and centered state of mind I was in before.

I make the effort each day, and I will continue to do so. Life is far too precious to waste. I’ve long had desires to give mine purpose and meaning. Now I have the space to do it.

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