The Big Distraction

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One of the most common coping mechanisms for a serious life/money/career/personal problem is to dive into escapism. We look for something to distract ourselves from the difficulty, whether it be through playing games, working in the garden, alcohol, or any number of other things.

I’m no stranger to this. When I’m facing a major struggle, I usually retreat into very solitary activities – solo video games, long books, and the like. When we hit our financial bottom, I was coming off a period of quite a lot of intense reading. Recently, when I was struggling to finish my book, I kept finding games to distract me from the work.

On one level, this type of distraction makes sense. In our stressful moments, it feels helpful to be distracted from it – to de-stress, if only for a while. Many people do this in the hour or two after work – they just go home and vegetate for a bit, letting themselves de-stress and unwind, for example.

Yet many of the things that stress us most can be resolved if we simply skip out on a bit of that distraction.

Instead of going home after work to de-stress, then just finding yourself back in the same old spot the next day, use that time to focus on getting a better education. Work on getting a better certification or a second degree.

Instead of playing a game because you don’t feel like working, turn off the game and just buckle down for a while. The game will be much sweeter when you’re done with the work – or you may find that the game was nothing more than a way to distract yourself and you’ll find yourself free to tackle the things you really want to do.

Instead of going shopping when you already have a big pile of debt, stay at home and come up with a debt repayment plan.

All of these solutions have a few things in common.

First, they don’t seem fun. At first, anyway. We often don’t want to face up to the hard things we have to do in life.

Second, facing the problems head on usually resolves them. You can’t untie a knot by turning your back on it. You only achieve victory over the things that are bothering you and bringing you down by dealing with them head on.

Third, the solution often takes much less time than the time we pour into distracting ourselves. I can get lost in a pile of books when avoiding a problem, but simply facing that problem and dealing with the consequences only takes a few hours. Even doing something as audacious as going for a higher degree is trivial compared to two hours of distracting yourself from a miserable job every single day.

The best part is that solving the problem leaves you with a much higher level of enjoyment of the things that you were using to distract yourself. For example, if I play a game before working, I’m usually not enjoying the game as much because I recognize the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, if I do the work first, the game is substantially more enjoyable because of the lack of worries hanging over my head.

What’s the lesson here? If you find yourself spending time unwinding, distracting yourself, or avoiding problems, face them head on, whether they be financial, career, or personal issues. The worst thing you can do is let them sit while you distract yourself – you’ll just find yourself back where you started (and perhaps in a worse position).

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14 thoughts on “The Big Distraction

  1. Great topic. It takes determination and some gumption to meet a problem or task head-on without getting distracted first. And, I totally agree that if you work on the task first, you find that it didn’t take nearly as long as you thought it would. Using avoidance tactics only prolongs getting something done. (I know this first hand, I had to buckle down and write a paper for class this past weekend and it took me much less time than I had thought!)

  2. Well, Trent, I was reading your blog to distract me from some hard work I need to do… So, back to work for me. Cheers!

  3. Volunteering in a field you wish you were in can be both fun escapism and a step toward actually being in that field.

    Volunteer teaching/tutoring is a classic example, but nonprofits everywhere often need help with web and/or computer issues, general office work, marketing, efficiency, decluttering, and more.

  4. I am an escapist! But here’s the thing … I like my job, and my at-home to-do list is full of things that are 99% optional. (Seriously, we’re talking about line items like “change buttons on red shirt.”) There’s nothing I’m avoiding doing that is necessary to life. And I’m not goofing off to de-stress … just because I *can.* That makes it REALLY hard to buckle down!

    Thanks for helping me see why I avoid that to-do list so diligently. :-)

  5. Great tips. I’m trying to break a habit of playing “brain-enriching” games instead of doggedly figuring out where I want to take my life next! I’m trying the “pomodoro technique” to stay focused on work — so far, it really helps by building in breaks.

  6. What happens when you want to unwind b/c you’ve been busy doing one of these other things “enriching” things, like getting an education? For some people, unwinding and de-stressing is an absolutely necessary part of the day to make life better and easier in the long run. I work much more efficiently if I take breaks than if I try to keep going once my focus is lost. That’s usually the way the mind works, and its fine by me.

  7. Stefanie, #8, said “For some people, unwinding and de-stressing is an absolutely necessary part of the day to make life better and easier in the long run.” The truth is, it’s necessary for everyone. Trent, you missed a crucial part of the issue with this post – how to unwind/relax without spending hours vegging in front of the TV. The only way anyone can adopt the advice you give, succinctly summarized above as “get back to work, people!” is if they find better ways of relaxing.

  8. For the last couple of months I have taken a break from reading financial blogs and I have returned to this topic. What a coicidence! I’m currently procrastinating on a time sensitive urgent task.

    My distraction tactic is cleaning. In fact, as of this morning, my house is currently spotless. I was acually looking for another distraction (hence logging on to read finance blogs). So instead I guess I better address the issue eh!

    Just wanted to let you know this blog entry really hit home and I found it very helpful.

    Thank you!

  9. Trent – thanks for the reminder. You’re sooo right that it’s less stressful to confront whatever you’re avoiding. Completing the job makes the down time sweeter. Cheers!

  10. I wish someone I know would read this! I totally agree, although sometimes a few minutes de-stress and some head-clearing can mean I’m more effectively tackling a problem – a lot of stuff gets solved and motivation kicks after a couple of minutes relaxing in in the shower!

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