I used to think that distractions were a bad thing. If you were distracted, you weren’t paying attention to what was immediately in front of you. And that is true – that’s exactly what a distraction is: something that pulls you away from whatever you were attending to.
And sometimes that can be really useful:
- If we’re caught up in feeling a bit under the weather in some way
- If we’re feeling fed up
- If we’re feeling agitated
- If we’re feeling irritated
- If we’ve got stuck with something and can’t see how to sort it out
- If we’re feeling overwhelmed by what we have to do
- If we’re berating ourselves for something we’ve done or not done
In all these situations, it’s easy to get caught up into a negative spiral. We all know that an insect bite can become all-consuming, that someone’s irritating behaviour can remind us of everything they’ve ever done to annoy us, and we can convince ourselves that we’re really stupid because of one wrong move.
When we pay attention to something, it takes centre stage and starts collecting more evidence that it should be there. It’s like a magnet for more of the same sort of thought or reaction. Now that’s great if it’s something positive, but when it is something that is not useful to us, we need to be able to distract ourselves – pull ourselves away from its magnetic charm.
Being distracted allows us to regain some perspective, sort ourselves out a bit, and then approach whatever it is differently.
If we’ve already thought of some useful distractions, we are more likely to use them before we get too caught up in the negative spiral.
They need to have a strong ‘pull’ to break us out of the trap, so just switching on the TV or radio probably won’t work. We want things that take over our attention and occupy our minds.
Some examples might be: listening to some music we love, linked to happy memories; or watching an enthralling movie; or going in the garden for an hour; or going on a bike ride. If you have a particular hobby or interest, a bit of time spent on that helps, and so will a short walk, where you literally move away, and consciously pay attention to your external surroundings.
You will have your own set of useful distractions, so make a note of them, and next time you realise you are getting caught into one of those negative spirals, distract yourself!!