Focusing on the Important Stuff in an Age of Distraction

In a world saturated with social media and unlimited interruptions, many of us struggle to focus on what’s in front of us. With so many voices vying for attention, it’s hard to know what’s worth our time.

We end up tuning it all out, the good with the bad.

Photo Credit: Βethan via Compfight cc

The surprising solution to our distraction confronts us every day. At the shopping mall. In long lines of traffic. Even standing at the coffeepot.

Every time we wait is an opportunity to slow down and be present in an increasingly noisy world, to listen to the voices we sometimes lose in the static. And as we embrace the wait, we learn to appreciate the delays and postponements that teach us some things in life are worth waiting for.

Learning to slow down

Life was meant to be more than the daily humdrum. It was supposed to be enjoyable, full of purpose, not just stress and worry. So where has all our satisfaction gone? Where is the pleasure, the joy?

We search for it on road trips and weekend getaways, even extended vacations in the Caribbean, dreaming of the life we’ve always wanted.

We seek out meaning in our jobs and other success pursuits. We even reserve feelings of joy and satisfaction for major events like marriage and parenthood. But often we’re disappointed with what we find.

Sure, we may be happy, but we are far from complete. Even the best job, the best husband, and the best vacation have their flaws (I happen to know this for a fact). What we were hoping for, what we dreamed would be a larger-than-life experience, ends up looking a lot like morning breath and spreadsheets.

So we keep searching, and we wonder why it’s becoming harder to sit still and just be. All the while, what we’re searching for sits in front of us, hidden in normal, everyday inconveniences.

If we reserve our joy only for the experiences of a lifetime, we may miss the life in the experience.

Such experiences are everywhere, waiting for us to see them. But first we must learn to open our eyes and recognize the gift of waiting.

Choosing to be grateful, anyway

In the in-between, that place where we spend most our lives, we learn to recognize the temporal nature of life. Eventually, all waiting must end. And when it does, we are left with what we did with the time in between the beginning and the end.

Watching a tree grow will likely drive you crazy. It’s a boring process if you stand there, impatiently tapping your foot, waiting for it to do something. But if you step away and come back later, you’ll be surprised to see something beautiful emerge.

The fact is the plant is doing something; it's growing. Just not as quickly as you might like.

Our culture has conditioned us to expect instant results and overnight success. But life doesn't always work that way.

Our cultural impatience runs so rampant that we dress it up in terms like “productivity” and “efficiency.” But what’s really happening is we are conditioning ourselves to get what we want now, all the time. Such a mindset robs us of the lessons waiting can teach us, causing us to miss out on the slow but important stuff of life.

How we grow

Most growth happens this way: slowly over time. You don't even notice it. In fact, sometimes the circumstances feel more like inconveniences than opportunities, but then one day you wake up, amazed at how far you’ve come.

When it comes to waiting — for anything, really — we have a choice:

  • we can try to bypass the delays to get immediate gratification,
  • or we can embrace the “long game” of life and invest those days, months, and years in the slow but intentional growth that leads to lasting change.

What would you rather do? Keep constantly searching for the next thrill or achievement to “complete” you? Or find a way to abide in where you are right now — this place that maybe, in its own little way, is perfect?

Three things that will make you happier now

If you struggle to focus, like I do, but want more out of life, try the following:

  1. Make a gratitude list. Write down three things you're grateful for today (science shows that such lists lead to increased happiness).
  2. Stop competing. Instead of comparing yourself to someone you admire (or envy), consciously choose to celebrate their success. Jealousy leads to misery; make the effort to build others up, even when you don't want to.
  3. Resist the urge of distraction. The next time you're tempted to “check in” on social media, to lose focus on what's right in front of you, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that this moment won't last forever and you should make the most of it.

For more help with focusing on what really matters, check out this five-part series with daily challenges to slow down.

You might also like my book, The In-Between, which you can pick up wherever fine books are sold (I've always wanted to say that). Audiobook aficionados can get it for free on Audible when signing up for a new account.

To get more of a taste of the book, listen to the whole introduction right here (or click the player below).


Do you struggle with distraction? How do you focus? Share in the comments.