We tend to talk about being distracted as if it’s a bad thing, and sometimes it is – but not always. Distraction means to be pulled away from something.

Now if the something is a task you need to finish, or paying attention to something important, then it is not useful. We lose focus when we’re distracted, and it means that we are less effective.

However, most of us benefit from distraction when what we’re being pulled away from is what’s going on in our heads! You know what I mean: those spirals we can get into where we play anxieties and annoyances over and over and make them so much worse.

When we realise we’re beginning to do that, it’s time to roll out a distraction that switches our mind to another channel, and gives us a chance to regain perspective. And obviously, if we want to change channels in our mind, the distraction needs to be some form of mental occupation, something we are sure to pay attention to.

It helps to have a repertoire of such distractions, so you have choices ready, depending on the circumstances. There are the ones you can only do if you pay attention to them, like Sudoku or jigsaws; there are the ones that gradually draw you in, like gardening or watching something that makes you laugh; and there are the ones that give your mind a different rhythm to follow, like counting your breath or how many steps you take as you walk – by the way, counting is a really simple way of distracting your mind: children learn to do it as a natural way of occupying their thoughts. All of these take over your conscious mind and give it a chance to settle down again.

Physical movement helps too – if we move our bodies we move our minds.. To increase the speed at which physical movement sorts us out, it helps to deliberately focus on what we can see or hear externally while we move, or again, to count repetitions: steps, cars passing.

So just have a ponder on what works for you as a distraction, what ‘takes your mind off things’. And next time you find yourself stuck in one of those mind ruts, go instead to a useful distraction!

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