Once upon a time, a young girl awoke hungry and thirsty. She hadn’t consumed anything to eat or drink for as long as she could remember… and she was lost in a vast desert without food, water, shelter, or any kind of parental care. But she wasn’t scared. She was ready!
For throughout her short life, the universe had been crystal clear with her: while other children were granted easier lives in happy homes with loving parents, Christmas trees and birthday parties, her destiny was very different: it was to know suffering… so she could find ways to alleviate suffering in others.
The young girl’s heart pounded hard as she watched the sun rise over the distant horizon. And she wondered how much more her deprived little body and mind could take. She was struggling in so many ways, yet she let the universe know, as she often did, that if today was the day… it was OK. But she wouldn’t give up without a fight!
The young girl stood strong. She faced down the heat of the sun. She faced down her own inner battles and suffering. One day at a time, one step at a time, she walked out of that vast desert and into adulthood. And she noticed, as a grown woman, that there were incredible amounts of suffering to alleviate in the world around her — so many people stumbling aimlessly through their own deserts, hungry, thirsty, and without proper shelter and care.
But instead of looking for food, water, shelter, or a way out of the desert, the majority of these people embraced an interesting approach to their predicaments: they simply pretended they weren’t in a desert. They pretended they weren’t deprived of food, water, shelter and care. They’d simply go about their daily lives distracting themselves from their basic needs, and from the pain they endlessly felt.
Sometimes, the woman noticed, the distractions seemed relatively harmless: gadgets, gossip, leisure, movies, junk food, etc. Other times, however, they appeared far more destructive: denial, spite, jealously, self-disgust, misdirection, procrastination, regret, and — perhaps most prevalent of all — decades of indifference.
The woman learned that while addictive and seemingly innocuous in the near term, most of the distractions she witnessed in people’s lives existed for all the wrong reasons, to cover up a series of hard and lasting truths. Which were all really just slight variations of one universal, hard and lasting truth:
Suffering doesn’t stop when we as human beings distract ourselves from suffering. Instead, it festers and rages on, binding us to a lifetime of meaningless and oftentimes harmful distractions…
Which we (unhappily) call life.
Distractions Over Happiness
The young girl from the story above, who grew into a wise and discerning woman, was named Zelda. She was my grandmother. And while I’ve merely grazed over her life story here in the form of a parable, she was a real, amazing human being who took hard-won lessons from her personal life experiences and distilled them into easily understandable stories for me when I was just a teenager. She also spent much of her life aiding those in need.
I’ve reflected on many of my grandmother’s lessons in past articles (and in our New York Times bestselling book), but the lesson I mentioned in the parable — about distractions — is something Angel and I constantly see affecting people’s lives on a daily basis. And I was reminded of it again this morning when I received an email from a new course student with the subject:
“Why do I love distracting myself from the things that matter most?”
So today, in honor of my grandmother, and our new student’s recent inquiry, I want to reflect on ten specific distractions Angel and I have literally seen plaguing hundreds of our coaching clients, course students, and live event attendees over the past decade. The root cause of each is generally fueled by a subconscious desire to bypass some kind of temporary emotional suffering and find a shortcut to happiness. Of course, it always backfires. Because there are no shortcuts for the hard steps that need to be taken to get out of the figurative desert and into a place that nurtures your soul.
Yet, despite logic, many unhappy think they want and need…
1. Another comfortable, leisurely day
A comfortable, leisurely day sounds nice, for a moment. But it’s not the kind of day you’ll look back on with gratitude for how far you’ve come.
Truth be told, the most common and destructive distraction in the world is the draw of comfort. Why pursue growth when you already have 500 television channels, YouTube and a recliner? Just pass the dip and lose yourself in a trance.
WRONG! That’s not living — that’s existing.
Living is about learning and growing through excitement and discomfort. It’s about asking questions and seeking answers. And life is filled with questions, many of which don’t have an obvious or immediate answer. It’s your willingness to ask these questions, and your courage to march boldly into the unknown in search of the answers on a daily basis, that gives life meaning.
In the end, you can spend your life feeling sorry for yourself, cowering in the comfort of a recliner, wondering why there are so many problems out in the real world, or you can be thankful that you are strong enough to endure them. It just depends on your mindset. The obvious first steps in this arena, though, are convincing yourself to stop distracting yourself, to get up, and to do the uncomfortable things that need to be done.
2. A quicker way
The more mature your eyes grow, the more clearly they can see through the smoke and mirrors of every quick fix. Anything worth achieving takes dedicated daily effort. Like most people, I used to believe that making wishes and saying prayers alone changed things. But now I know that wishes and prayers change us, and WE change things.
All details aside, when it comes to making a substantial change in your life — building a business, earning a degree, fostering a new relationship, starting a family, becoming more mindful, or any other personal journey that takes time and commitment — one thing you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to spend a little time every day like many people won’t, so I can spend the better part of my life like many people can’t?” Think about that for a moment. We ultimately become what we repeatedly do. The acquisition of more knowledge and opportunities doesn’t mean you’re growing — growing happens only when what you know changes how you actively engage with the opportunity directly front of you, on a daily basis.
(Note: Angel and I build life-changing daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
3. Perfect efforts and outcomes
Too many of us fear that we will somehow be held back by our imperfections. But in reality, the exact opposite is true. The full acceptance of our imperfections is what ultimately sets us free. Understanding the difference between reasonable striving and perfectionism is critical to letting go of distractions and picking up your life.
Perfectionism of all shapes and sizes not only causes you unnecessary stress and anxiety from the superficial need to always “get it right,” it actually prevents you from getting anything worthwhile done at all. So, think progress, not perfection. The real world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards people who get GOOD things done. And the only way to get GOOD things done is to be imperfect 99% of the time.
4. All those text messages, social updates, memes, and perfect Insta pics
If it entertains you now but will hurt or bore you someday, it’s a distraction. Don’t settle. Don’t exchange what you want most for what you kind of want at the moment. Study your habits. Figure out where your time goes, and remove distractions. It’s time to focus on what matters.
A good place to start?
Learn to be more human again. Don’t avoid eye contact. Don’t hide behind gadgets. Smile often. Ask about people’s stories. Listen. You can’t connect with anyone, including yourself, unless you are undistracted and present. And you can’t be either of the two when you’re Facebooking, Instagramming or Snapchatting your life away. You just can’t!
If you are constantly attached to your smartphone and only listening with your ears as your eyes check for the next social update, you are ripping yourself off of actually experiencing real relationships and real life. The same is true for texting too. Yes, someday you will be slapped with the reality of a missed MEMORY being far more unsettling than a missed TEXT!
5. More (and more) approval from the masses
We worry about what other people think of us. We worry about our appearance. We worry if she’ll like us. We worry if he likes that other woman. We worry we’re not accomplishing all that we should be. We worry we’ll fall flat on our faces. We worry we’re not enough just the way we are. And of course, we worry about all those foolish, thoughtless things someone once said about us.
And social media — with its culture of getting us to seek constant approval with virtual likes and hearts — with its endless highlight reel of perfect bodies and epic travels — it only intensifies the problem. Realize this. You don’t need any of that social validation in your life! It’s just a distraction.
6. A fully-booked calendar
Feeling busy feels exciting, for a while. But make no mistake about it, busyness for the sake of it is just a temporary distraction that pulls us farther away from long-term happiness and peace of mind. This is a lesson we all learn eventually, oftentimes the hard way.
Life tends to humble us gradually as we age. We begin to realize just how much nonsense we’ve wasted time on. And truthfully, overcommitting is the single biggest mistake most people make that makes life stressful and overwhelming in the long run. It’s tempting to fill in every waking moment of the day with to-do list tasks, events, obligations and distractions. Don’t do this to yourself!
You CANNOT do it all. You have to let some things GO!
Focus on what’s important and then leave space. Over time you will learn that many great things happen unplanned, and some big regrets happen by not reaching exactly what was planned. So keep your life ordered and your schedule under-booked. Create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe every step of the way.
7. The daily drama that seems so significant
99% of the drama in our lives isn’t significant in the long run, because it isn’t even real. It’s all in our heads. Just a momentary rise in our blood pressure for all the wrong reasons.
In a nutshell, most drama is simply the consequence of our inner resistance to outer incidents. Thus, there’s a strong chance the drama you are going through at any given moment is not fueled by the words or deeds of others, or any external sources at all; it is fueled primarily by your mind that gives the drama importance.
8. Being someone completely different
It’s human nature to attempt to mimic other humans we look up to — perhaps a sports star or a celebrity — especially when we’re feeling insecure in our own skin. But attempting to be someone else will always leave us feeling empty inside. Why? Because what we appreciate about the people we admire is their individuality — the qualities that make them unique. To really copy them, we need to develop our own individuality, and in that way, we would actually be less like them and more like our true selves.
We all have quirks and a weirdness about us. The more relaxed you become with your own differences, the more comfortable you will start to feel just being YOU. So, don’t distract yourself from who you truly are. Celebrate being different, off the beaten path, a little on the weird side… your own special creation. If you find yourself feeling like a fish out of water, by all means find a new river to swim in. But DO NOT change who you are; BE who you are.
Don’t get to the end of your life and find that you lived only the length of it; live the width of it as well. When it comes to living as an authentic, whole human being, the only challenge greater than learning to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, is learning to walk a lifetime comfortably in your own. And when you are truly comfortable in your own skin, not everyone will like you, but you won’t care about it one bit.
9. More (and more) confidence
Confidence is that inner inertia that propels us to bypass our empty fears and self-doubts. On the road of life, we come to realize that we rarely have confidence when we begin anew, but as we move forward and tap into our inner and outer resources, our confidence gradually builds.
A common mistake many people continuously make is wanting to feel more confident before they start something, whether it’s a new job, a new relationship, living in a new city, or just mastering a new skill. But that desire for more confidence is just a distraction, because it doesn’t happen like that. You have to step out of your comfort zone, and risk your pride, to earn the reward of finding your confidence.
So, stop believing that you should feel more confident before you take the next step, and remind yourself that taking the next step is what builds your confidence.
10. More (and more) stuff
Too many people buy physical possessions they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t know. Don’t be one of them. Fill your life with lots of quality experiences and insights, not lots of things that distract you from what’s important. Have incredible stories and lessons to share, not incredible clutter in your closets.
Here are two quotes from our friend Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less, because I love his sentiment and I think it perfectly compliments my thoughts here:
- “Our excessive physical possessions are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”
- “Sometimes, minimizing physical possessions means an old dream must die. But this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it takes giving up the person we wanted to be in order to fully appreciate the person we can actually become.”
Let’s re-focus & practice, together…
Just like you, Angel and I are not immune to any of the points discussed above. None of us are completely above this stuff. Even my grandmother, at 90, openly admitted that she still fell short on occasion. We are all human; we let our weak impulses get the best of us sometimes. And it takes practice just to realize this, and then even more practice, still, to get ourselves back on track.
I sincerely hope you will practice along with us.
I sincerely hope you will keep reminding yourself…
If it entertains you now but will hurt or bore you someday, it’s a distraction.
Don’t exchange what you want most for what you kinda want at the moment.
Study your daily rituals and habits. Figure out where your time and energy goes, and remove distractions.
It’s time to re-focus on what matters!
It’s time to embrace reality and not procrastinate…
Think about what you want to change or create in your life.
Then watch this quick video Angel and I recorded for you, and let us ask a simple yet powerful question that just might change your perspective about everything:
And if you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU right now, too.
Which point mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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