I am the queen of distraction. Any excuse will do. A ding on my phone? A dog barking? Stomach rumble? I’m up for it! Literally. I will get up to investigate, check the phone, open the fridge door…
Recently, I decided to spend more time in the office. Even with all the distractions there, I get more work done. Sure, I may have a chat to a colleague and make myself the odd cup of tea but somehow, I am more focused because I know this is the place for work and not play.
About a year ago I listened to Nir Eyal’s book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. I felt motivated for about a week and then, slowly at first before accelerating with a vengeance, my old habits resurfaced. I didn’t want to be boxed in by time blocks, or make public commitments about my goals, I was happy to coast along, chop and change as my want and hit the panic button when deadlines emerged. After all, I work best under pressure. Doesn’t everyone?
Last week, London Writers’ Salon interviewed Nir Eyal. As I’m a bit of a self-help nerd, I decided to listen. I’m so glad I did. He explained my resistance, which is far from unique. There’s a psychological term for it. It is called reactance. ‘…when people feel coerced into a certain behavior, they will react against the coercion, often by demonstrating an increased preference for the behavior that is restrained, and may perform the behavior opposite to that desired (APA Dictionary of Psychology).’
This describes me perfectly. Even if I’m the one who sets the expectation, I will fight tooth and nail against it. Just knowing that I can name this pesky trait really helps. Now when I hear that voice saying, ‘I don’t want to do it that way, I prefer to do it my way,’ I can say, ‘hello reactance, I know what tricks you’re up to!’
Nir also had a great idea for people who get distracted by their children when working from home. His solution is to buy a cheap crown to wear when working. His kids were told that when he was wearing the crown, he was indistractable. They could only interrupt if it involved blood or vomit. I have used a similar tactic when teaching. I’d say to my class that I was in a bubble with my reading group. Only the people inside the bubble were allowed to talk to me. Surprisingly, kids really respected the bubble. If they ignored the rule I drew an invisible bubble with my arms, and they would walk away. It worked like a charm. At least until an enterprising young chap walked up to my invisible bubble with an invisible pin and pricked it.
I really like Nir’s idea of wearing a crown. I will go out and buy a tiara (much more elegant) and wear it to remind that naughty distracting child within me that I have work to do. If nothing else, I will at least look stylish when I raid the fridge.