Why do I waste time? How to Stay Focused & Overcome Distraction

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For 3 years, I spent well over half of my “free time” playing video games and watching shows on Netflix. Looking back on it, I don’t remember any relevant details of any game or show I watched; I was sleepwalking through life, using games and tv as a way to numb my mind. I was never truly invested in the chosen entertainment, but hooked onto the momentary relief from responsibility.

Wasting time doesn’t always look like it did for me; doing anything you don’t truly want to is a waste of time. Often, we do these things because we value instant gratification over long term fulfillment. This can manifest in many different ways: addiction to social media, porn, and alcohol, overindulgence in food, and doing work that isn’t towards furthering our own goals.

I wish I had spent less time seeking out distractions, but I did learn valuable lessons in the aftermath. My goal is to pass on the lessons so that others don’t have to endure the pain that results from the consequences of wasting time.

  • I never left my comfort zone. I continued to do things that I knew the outcome of. I knew if I played games all day long, the end result would be that I had successfully distracted myself all day and had avoided thinking about my health, my goals, and the decisions and hard work that would follow.

  • I didn’t understand who I was. There’s no magic spell. The way to self discovery is by challenging yourself to learn about your passions and putting in the hard work required to have meaningful experiences. Instead, I ignored the call to understand my purpose, and instead numbed my mind with endless entertainment.

  • I made a habit of having bad habits. Inspired by Aristotle, Will Durant said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” In the same vein, I repeatedly made excuses and chose to distract myself from thoughts regarding growth and fulfillment. The decisions were hard to make and I was afraid, so it became ingrained into my routine - overwhelming thoughts come up, excuses start firing away, entertainment on - front and center.

I was fully aware of the above consequences while it was happening, but I felt stuck in life, with no idea how to move forward. It wasn’t until I was finally kicked off that path that I began a new journey and started to analyze my own experiences and study the lives of others. Learning from others, successful and stuck alike, I better understood the reasons we develop habits that inhibit our growth and fulfillment.

  1. To distract ourselves when we feel (some variation of) grief or anger. After a heated argument or even the death of a loved one, it is natural for us to get overwhelmed with negative feelings - feelings that some of us have been taught to ignore, and that all of us struggle to process. Rather than feeling the pain of sorrow, we choose to become numb by stimulating our brains until we all but forget how we feel.

    • Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Identify what helps you process and recover from these feelings and then set aside intentional time to do that. It's important to keep in mind that processing your feelings has to happen before trying to move past them. For example, running helps some people by giving their minds the time and space to process while their body is producing endorphins that will also make them feel better.

  2. To avoid doing the real work. The real work is any effort or responsibility that is aligned with what you really want. Many times, our dreams are so large that they drown us in their enormity. It is challenging to create a plan consisting of much smaller, more easily digestible steps that help us stay afloat. We psych ourselves out, make excuses about being tired, and convince ourselves we will work on it “later”. This shifts our responsibility to work from now until later - but for now, we are distracted by entertainment and therefore less focused on the work and the fact that we are avoiding it.

    • Create an enticing plan of action. A plan, broken down into manageable steps, with clear expectations for results, is enticing. Schedule a block time of time to work and give yourself a reasonable deadline. Learn about what makes doing this work enjoyable to you and incorporate it into your plan.

  3. We lack discipline. We can google inspirational quotes and videos all day long, and they help a bit, but taking responsibility and being intentional about every single action is tough. Discipline needs to become a habit. If you’re similar to how I used to be, your habit is to have desires and start taking steps in the right direction, only to abandon them as soon as they prove challenging or scary.

    • Hold yourself accountable. Setting goals that are reasonable and within reach is important, but that’s only half the battle. If you’re having trouble staying accountable, reach out to me and we’ll work together to make a habit out of discipline. Every day, take a few minutes to set a plan for what you want to get done. Review it at the end of the day. Ask yourself these questions:

      • Did you get everything done that you wanted to?

      • If not, why not?

      • Was it because something unforeseen happened, or because you didn’t make the time for it?

      • Does this happen (almost) every day?

  4. We doubt ourselves. Our habits tend to lead us through a negative cycle: we distract and avoid, lack discipline to stay the course once we get started, and doubt ourselves the whole time. Because we doubt ourselves, it’s hard to start; because we sometimes lack discipline and get distracted, we doubt ourselves and have an internal voice telling us that this is how it will always be.

    • Break the cycle, forge your own path. Whatever stage of the cycle you’re in, break it. When you find that you are distracting yourself, avoiding something, or lacking discipline, follow the advice above. When you’re doubting yourself, take the time to remember at least one moment in the past - no matter how big or small, where you’ve persisted and been successful. Say affirmations to yourself every morning or create a different habit to change the way you view yourself.

You are so capable. I believe in your dreams and the value you have to offer the world. Find your purpose and stay focused on it!

Manu Mohit Ramchandani