Removing distractions is an important foundational step to improving your productivity. When you are creating mental resilience, the key is to remove as many stumbling blocks at the beginning as possible.
Building self-discipline is similar to building physical strength. In the beginning, you will have weaknesses. If you do not remove distractions and other stumbling blocks from your life, you may find them too tempting to overcome in the beginning. Over time, once you build the habit and skill of mental toughness, you have more self-discipline, and it will be easier for you to resist things that could potentially stand in the way of making progress.
Distractions are everywhere, and they can be tough to overcome when you’re trying to achieve a goal. The difference between mentally tough people and those who have not built this skill is that mentally tough people have learned how to avoid and eliminate distractions that stand between them and their goals.
The problem is not just that we're easily distracted. It’s also hard to stay focused on our work when there are so many other things competing for our attention. For example, we check Facebook or Instagram to see what’s going on, then we get into a conversation with friends, and it all goes downhill from there.
Distractions can be physical or emotional. Some of them may even be useful for us. But, you have to realize that they make your life more complicated than necessary and sometimes even prevent you from accomplishing things that matter the most.
If you think about what you spend your time on in a given day, I’d be willing to bet that you spend a considerable amount of time, attention, and energy on things that are not productive. Many time-wasting habits are developed over time.
Work to understand your habits
Habits are actions that we repeat on autopilot. They generally do not require conscious thought. The reason why negative patterns are so insidious is that we may not always be aware of their toll on our lives and productivity.
An effective exercise for gaining awareness around your habits and potential distractions is to track your activity for one week. You’ll want to grab a small notebook or use a simple note app on your phone and record what you did during each hour of the day.
At the end of the week, look back at what you spent your time on. Identify which actions or time-wasters you would remove or change if you could go back in time and relive the week all over again.
It’s important to note that the goal is not to stay busy only doing productive work. You do need downtime to relax, unwind, spend time socializing. All of those things are fine. You should be concerned with spending too much time on things that aren’t important or making you happy. For example, if you have a habit of calling your mom every day to complain about all the things going wrong in your life, that might be a distraction that you may want to take conscious action to reduce.
While venting once and while is acceptable and expected, if you are spending hours each day having unproductive thoughts or conversations, your life could improve dramatically if you removed the distracting conversation and replaced it with something more constructive.
Make a list of common distractions
Our attention is continuously pulled in different directions, and we’re always on the lookout for something better to do. Make a list of the distractions you encounter during your day, for example, junk food, social media, toxic people, etc. Then decide which ones you will get rid of entirely and which ones you want to spend less time on.
One of the critical aspects of building mental toughness is to limit distractions. Sometimes, it might be hard to know where these distractions come from. Other times, you may not even notice them in the first place. Identifying and eliminating distracting activities is an excellent way to ensure that you are accomplishing more every day.
For distractions that are easy to avoid, make the decision right now to eliminate them from your life, or at the very least, to take a break from indulging in them until you’ve made significant progress toward your goals.
For distractions that are more difficult to avoid, create a plan so that you’ll know exactly what to do when you encounter them.
For example, if junk food is difficult to avoid in your home because another member of your family refuses to stop buying it, create a plan to prevent it. An excellent example of this avoidance strategy might be to avoid the cupboard where the junk food is kept. Set a rule for yourself that you will not open the food cabinet under any circumstances.
Lastly, identify the distractions that you should never give into and be firm with yourself. If you know that signing into Netflix means that you will waste the next six hours bingeing your favorite series, draw a hard line and commit to not turning on the television, playing the video game, or engaging in other distracting activities until you have reached a specific milestone with your goals.
Don’t lie to yourself
It’s easy to convince yourself that you have the willpower to avoid distracting or harmful activities. However, in reality, you may not have built the discipline necessary to say no.
Think about the last time you finally decided to go ahead and stick to your workout plan. You've had a week where things have been busy, maybe even a bit stressful at times, but every day you've come home tired and ready for some rest.
You say to yourself, "okay, today I'm going to work out.” But then it hits 5 pm, and before you know it, it’s 9:30 pm with plans after work that are too good not to cancel them to take care of yourself. Everyone has experienced this at least once or twice, so don't be too hard on yourself. We're all human, after all.
The point is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to give in to distractions that you know will derail you. If you know that taking a bite of cake will lead to a binge, don’t tell yourself that it’s okay to have “just one bite.” You know that’s not true, so don’t do it.
Avoiding distractions in the first place is sometimes far easier than allowing the temptation to seep in and trying to rely on self-discipline to overcome it. Until you build up your self-discipline muscle, it’s best to avoid your triggers altogether. Keep in mind that you won’t have to avoid distractions and other things that you enjoy forever. But while you are building the habit of self-discipline, you cannot let yourself slip back into bad habits.