Is distraction good for you?

Distraction as an action, not a reaction

I am constantly distracted, when I want to be. My early years school reports concluded it was a trait to tame. But these days it is quite intentional. Or at least with my adult brain, I kid myself the same. Because we are each distracted whether we like to be or not.

As I continue to stretch my understanding of projects, and of people, and the paradigms that connect them both, so the distractions constantly bombard my mind. Not that I am unusual. It is the natural tendency of all of us. Part of our innate complexity, the brain’s counterpoint, constantly optioneering. It is only the awareness of this fact that we get to change.

We can train a warrior-like discipline. Learn to control urges and withstand pain. But there is more to this than will-power, at least if we want to be more than just a summation of sub-routines to repeat and engrain.

This is what we can do when meditating. We are taking interest in distraction. Even if that interest is just intending means to not be distracted. Or, we may be learning to positions ourselves behind distraction, sitting along-side it, or taking perspective from it. We may simply be learning to confront it, or finds ways to calm it. Both ancient practices and modern science are informing us we need to spend as much time outwardly focused as we do inwardly aware.

This is also what we do when we communicate. We invite, or attempt to initiate, distraction. We are presenting new perspective to another. We are receiving new perspective from another. We may be sharing or discovering new perspectives with each other. Meditating is one example of an active means of understanding this. Communication is an active way of doing much the same beyond our individual minds.

A distraction reaction, in action

By way of example of this in practice, I offer an observation I wrote in passing in a post on LinkedIn today. At the time, I had been reviewing some documents for work. On my mind were preparations for exams for my MSc in January. Yet my eyes and hands conspired to click onto LinkedIn. Subconsciously, my brain was asking for a dopamine hit to feed the addiction that now claims us all. So this was itself a distraction from the tasks upon my desk.

This is most pertinent to those who say yes too much. It’s important to find yourself doing so, and consider why. If being helpful is your curse, consider what you are not able to do because of all you have agreed to do. Crucially, check if the things you cannot now do are actually more important. Even more importantly, be honest with yourself and challenge your answer. Because behind all of this may be fear of that bigger thing. The more important thing. The thing that is harder to say yes to, maybe closer to your goal. Being busy serving others without clarity of why this is your best path, may be taking a heavy long-term toll.

Chances are the one thing someone has asked you to do that challenges you the most, is the one thing you find reason to say no to.

Saying no more often is step two. Step one is saying yes to those rarer opportunities that you doubt you can do, and that people less regularly request.

Step three is finding your own yes. Then its other people that think twice about saying no, to you.

My observations on LinkedIn 22 Dec 2021

This was my response to a poll on LinkedIn, asking “are you a “YES” person? How often do you say NO?”

It was only from responding to this post, and then returning to a specific query I was fielding, that brought both items together. The recurring project problem I was looking at was one part feeling obliged to say “yes” to even more formal reporting, when their better perspective could be offered by doing more, and reporting less. Which therefore required them to find constructive ways of saying “no”.

Learn how to channel your distractions

This is what we do in every moment of every day. We manage distraction, demands of attention, but in doing so we encourage a lateral connectivity. Each brain is wired slightly differently, nature makes this inevitably the way. We are the aggregation of our experience, and no two are therefore the same. The machinations of experiences creating happenstances that a more mechanised and optimised singular focus would not.

We also have much going on within the brain that is intentionally acting without our awareness. There is no conscious decision-making in temperature control or heart-beat, but nor is there is cognitive function of reading, or recoiling from something hot. We may not even need the brain at all to regulate the gut. We are however, a rarity of biological sets of processes to have some illusion of awareness at all. It is this awareness that enables each of us to compare. To be situationally aware. And by our abstraction of the real, both mull over internally but also externally share.

This is where much of the psychological, philosophical, and neuroscience debate still rages on. There is still plenty of room too for the debates of ethical, moral, theological, and physical. Objective, subjective, or existential.

For me, these are each fascinating discussions and debates. Some have been ebbing and flowing for 2,500 years. It is the cause of much of the distraction I now welcome every day. For it is this awareness of the perspectival, the conflicting, and the nuanced, that keeps me at my desk. Typing away.

Relate better to your distractions. Learn when to say “yes”, and when to say “no”. It is just part of the happenstance we may invite but not intend, in our human way.

Excuse my ignorance

Einstein’s curse

My meditative practice this morning turned into a lingering abstraction over breakfast. A trap of thought I needed to write down in order to unwind. As a release of tension, or as indigestion. Both may suit. Consider this a musing. A diary entry or placeholder. A journal entry that escaped.

That he was almost right. Almost complete. But his schema fails at the boundary cases of his paradigm. Space and time, or more correctly spacetime.

The Big Bang sits as a beginning. A paradigm that sits within itself. From which spacetime emerges and is contained. It is the beginning of change and of matter. Dynamics. The temporary. The paradigm of the transitional.

Physics now wrestling with the remainder. The parts of the indivisible whole that remained when we categorised what is beyond categorical. The whole. Or the hole. The subset of a meta physics, that which has relative place in time.

Infinities of possibility. Itself an analogy of the paradigm within which we are trapped. A hint at the boundary case we cannot escape. But within which we are thereby condemned to have or to be.

To even ask what is beyond is to fall back into the trap. To not ask is to be blind to possibility. To ask what sits amidst us in the dark. Or what pulls our light in. Or what is parallel to all universal norms. All notional paradigms each informed by the limitations of our constraints. Of course we fall with Newton. A course outlined by Galileo. Our relativity necessarily coordinate and squared. Why would subatomic reality care for our boundary case of space and time? Revealing one or other but never both. The coordinate translation is our prison. And ours alone.

But that is fine to work with. I’m not sure I understand the fundamentals of anything at these extremes. Nor is it my place in space or time to download all preexisting code and add a few lines of my own. I’ve tried, and failed – so far. I’m asking much more limited sets of questions. Contained within a prison of one mind, amidst a sea of others. Each translating one to another our singular experience in shared space but across a human expansion beyond one experiential time. A unique gift to one repeating closed system that connects to others. By memory and abstraction. Change is our construct. Whether intended or not. I’m just asking the simple questions within that one paradigm.

And with that thought I feel ready to spend a day or two with Heidegger, Vygotsky, Popper, and Jasper. Starting with Being and Time. And the pollution of all these musings I have uttered, which I now need to unwind.

Comms check

How are you being?

A quick anecdotal connection from my first discussion of the day. Why it is so important to take time to revisit, to reconnect, and be clear on how and why.

Are you doing the right things to become a serendipitist? i.e., “one who finds valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” I think this is connected to being present, but also a fluidity in perspective. Having the presence of mind to enable flow, but having the mental dexterity to operate and perceive at multiple levels of interest beyond that one flow task. To do that, you first need to check you are connecting and communicating with openness of mind and agenda. You also need to be aware of to whom you are communicating, how, and why.

That starts with yourself. This morning’s meditation was my prajna day. I alternate my daily practice between looking inwards (meditation or vipassana) and looking outward (contemplation or metta). Prajna is to do both – in parallel if you are really expert – but for the relative novice this is attempted with inbreath to outbreath. Looking inward, and then immediately outward. Vipassana and metta each advance towards the furthest limits – one infinitely inward and the other infinitely outer. Prajna then challenging the means to move with increasing ease across the entire spectrum of all that is between. This is intended to seek new insight, by being open to the perspectival change. This is of immediate benefit to bring yourself back to the present. It is surprising to realise just how quickly the brain is taken in by distraction. How hard it is to keep remembering this is a practice not a meandering daydream. To stay present. That goes for all three practices. Prajna is as much an exercise in mental agility as it is a peace of mind. Indeed the mindfulness revolution is heavily criticised for suggesting any such practice is about finding an escape towards a calm. It is not an escape of any kind. It is finding a better way to be, and a better directed attention towards what to become.

My serendipitous moment came as I concluded my prajna. I was working to a timeline. My first call at 0830. So after my work upon myself, I was quickly contemplating my work with a new client. A process of discovery of a different kind about to unfold anew. However, this discovery is not mine. I may facilitate or guide some of that process. But the process itself is one that only the patient can do. Starting with the manner of looking within. The vipassana. How well is the communication and inner transparency working? How honest is the relationship with the self? Is there awareness of the inner tensions, the conflicting motivations, the over bearing demands or the parts allowed to do their own thing away from conscious view. How are the inner layers responding, cooperating, collaborating, and containing the processes each and all are intended to do? But then to the metta. How well is this engagement with the outer world. How connected are the receptors of information – the eyes and ears, touch, smell and taste – the perceptions towards these masses of data being retrieved from the outside world, how is all this being managed and processed and made available to decision-making need? How are such decisions being handed back towards these moving parts? How adaptive and effective are these processes as a fit to these interfaces, but also the furthest reaches of this outside world? And therein to the prajna. How connected and effective is the communication at all of these levels of perspective. Therein, how dynamic and able is this one entity of many internal parts able to adapt to the chaotic wider world, and find means to belong, to survive, and enable both to thrive?

This is the projects | within projects idea. That the psychology of self-understanding and self-management relates to more than just self. That social psychology links to sociology and to anthropology. But that all of this, when drawn back to basic principles, is what any organisation of any system is required to do. As a nation, as a people, or as a network or a firm. That any project is just a function of intended change. This perspectival agility then sits at micro and macro scale, a spatial and temporal part of many parts.

Whilst none of the above language is likely to be the taxonomy I use – at its core this is what I do. With this first preparation, this first enquiry, towards a discussion with a C-Suite board of a major organisation of many parts, this is precisely the basis of enquiry that is about to unfold.

Psychology in management; projects in mind. The effectiveness of communication, is what connects it all.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

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