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We Select Our Distractions

Why are you reading this?

You clicked a link, resulting in some network requests, software churning, and the pattern of lights on your screen changing.

Though that proximal cause is fascinating, why did you click? Perhaps because you clicked something else first, and something else before that. But it’s not quite “clicks the whole way down.”

You are reading this because there is enough of your mind that wants you to. It wants that for a mix of reasons - affiliation (i.e. you know me or are in my “network”), curiousity, avoidance of other tasks, and more. These are the “latent causes” behind clicks that advertisers and others love trying to get at.

But they aren’t just sources of manipulation and dark patterns. In a very real way, by clicking around, skimming, and “doomscrolling” we are being true to ourselves, or at least an important part of ourselves.

We select our distractions.

Man juggling

Of course, we select a lot of things, and not all of our selections are great (in that they are not always beneficial for ourselves or others, especially in the long term). Acknowledging that we select our distractions is not a vindication of them but a step towards understanding, and then continuing to select but perhaps in a more mindful manner.

You may think that doing this requires a mix of masterful logic and monkish self-control. Those aren’t bad things to have, but they’re actually more an ends than a mean. To get to the place where your wisdom and balance are readily apparent, you must first focus on the moment - find and accept what you feel, and how it connects to what you do.

Are you reading this because you want to connect with me, or other people? Try leaving a comment, or starting a discussion about these topics with others. Do you want a deeper understanding of psychology and yourself? Read books, take a course, and build time into your schedule to focus on these topics (even a tiny bit, as long as it’s regular).

Are you here because you should be doing something else, but you just don’t want to? Step back and ask why you don’t, and depending on that either figure out a small enough piece to tackle and get started, or decide it’s something you both don’t want and ultimately don’t need.

When you’re selecting a distraction, you’re doing it for a reason. It could be positive (a taste test of a genuine interest or desire), negative (avoidance and procrastination), or more likely a complicated mix. The nature of distraction makes it difficult to disentangle these causes, which is why it’s useful to occasionally have an explicit reminder, like this one.

We select our distractions - thank you for sharing this one with me.