System 2, or David as I like to call it, requires deep concentration. Deep concentration requires minimization of stimulation. Think about doing a complex arithmetic calculation, 76 times 28 for example. Can you do this calculation in your mind when you are distracted by loud music and flashing lights? That would be difficult. You could perform a complex arithmetic calculation better, if you closed your eyes and sat in a silent room. David is not only useful when making complex arithmetic calculations, but in every area of our lives that benefits from deep thinking.
The ability to concentrate and to think deep is a crucial competitive advantage, especially in this day and age.
Any kind of distraction is detrimental to David. Distraction hurts our performance in many ways. First, it wastes our time. This is obvious. Second, it occupies our mental capacity even if we are not actively engaging with it. The more free mental capacity we have, the more we can invest it in activities that serve our goals. If our mental capacity is filled with distraction, our performance will suffer. Third, distraction puts us into a fight or flight state, which makes it impossible to concentrate, engage David, and think deep.
If you think about it, we should have more and more free time as time passes, because our productivity increases as technology advances. However, we see the opposite effect. As technology advances, we experience more and more a lack of time. Instead of using the technology to improve our productivity, we use it to waste our time. Eliminating distraction from our lives would definitely save us a lot of time.
Waste of Mental Bandwidth
Beyond the obvious waste of time, distraction hurts us by keeping our minds busy long after we have engaged with it. Think about how a captivating news story keeps your mind busy throughout the day. While you are trying to focus on your work, your mind brings that news story up, which triggers emotions and makes it hard to concentrate.
The third disadvantage of distraction is that it puts you into a fight or flight state. When you’re in the fight or flight state, it’s hard to concentrate and think deep. Getting off the fight or flight state becomes harder as you stay more in it. The less you enter and the less you stay in that state, the more your capacity to concentrate and think deep grows. In other words, your David will grow stronger as you stay out of the fight or flight state.
How to Eliminate Distraction
The first step to eliminate distraction is to identify all the distractions in our daily lives. These range from listening to radio while driving to notifications of our computers and smartphones. For a longer, yet another incomplete list of distractions, you can check yesterday’s post.
Eliminate One by One
The second step is to choose one of the distractions in your list and eliminate it. Eliminating distractions one by one is more feasible than trying to eliminate all of them at once. The challenge here is that distractions are also addictive. So, when you eliminate distractions, expect to have some withdrawal symptoms.
Replace with a Positive Habit
The third step is to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. You can do that by learning how to relax and/or by replacing the distraction with something beneficial. Suppose that you have chosen to switch off the radio while you’re driving. This can have all the three benefits explained above. Can you deal with silence while you’re driving? If not, how can you cope with it? You can learn to relax by breathing deeply and by meditating. You can also replace the loud and distracting radio programming with relaxing instrumental music.
Replacing a distraction with a positive habit benefits you in two ways. Suppose that you have the habit of checking social media for an hour every day. You can replace that habit with reading a book, journaling, or a combination of both. This will not only help you with the withdrawal symptoms, but it will also benefit you with knowledge, self-awareness, and mental clarity.
Meditation is a great exercise to learn how to relax in tough situations. All you have to do is to sit on a comfortable chair with a straight posture. Set the alarm clock to a preset time such as five minutes. Close your eyes and follow your breath as you inhale and exhale. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them and let them go. Don’t pay attention or invest any mental energy into them. As you get comfortable, increase the duration over time. You can go deeper than that with meditation, but for our purposes, this is sufficient.
Celebrate Your Mental Clarity and Success
The fourth step is to enjoy the mental clarity and the success you achieve. Don’t dismiss this step. Acknowledging your successes, no matter how small, works as a positive reinforcement to motivate you to achieve more. In this case, recognizing the mental clarity and higher performance will encourage you to let go of even more distractions.
Distractions harms your life in three ways.
- Waste of time.
- They keep your mind busy even if you don’t engage them directly.
- They put you in a fight of flight state which detriments your cognitive abilities.
You can fight distraction in four steps.
- Identify and make a list of all the distractions in your life.
- Eliminate them one by one. Choose a distraction from the list and let it go.
- Deal with the withdrawal symptoms by replacing the distraction with a positive habit.
- Acknowledge and celebrate the mental clarity and success that comes with eliminating distraction.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.