How I Battle Distraction Sickness

inoculated against distraction

Illustration by Christian Laborin

According to a recent study, distraction as a result of the constant data deluge costs the U.S. economy $997 billion each year. That’s a lot of money, and a lot of wasted productivity that went down the drain. At this point, distraction sickness is a real thing; and it’s being monetized.

Social networks and social media have driven a design philosophy for making sticky products and services that take advantage of human nature to get us addicted. The defining metric is engagement for these products and services, and these companies will not stop optimizing for it when advertising drives their business model.

Distraction sickness shows up in the day to day as mindless consumption of superficial information. Most people can’t remember the conversations they had the previous day! A direct outcome is, I believe, social media has slowly killed critical thinking.

We need to get it back, urgently!

Unlike other people, I’m very disciplined with how I use my attention. First off, I’m only focused on that which adds value to my life and where I can add it. Simple, right? It’s isn’t because you really have to be honest with yourself, and it’s very likely people will be turned off because you may seem anti-social. This part is important, because you will have a hard time getting back your attention if you have a need to be liked; I don’t.

With that said, here’s how I maintain focus on that which matters to me:

  1. I don’t watch TV, and don’t use Facebook (only messenger) to mindlessly waste time scrolling through a news feed designed to show me more of the same stuff. Those two things by themselves are a huge. If I do watch TV it’s for sports and educational purposes (Discovery, National Geographic, History); so I’m completely oblivious to binge watching on Netflix. Every now and then I’ll sit down to watch movies to disconnect or for background noise while I fall asleep.
  2. I block ads in the internet since I’ve been using an adblocker on my browser for a decade or more;I  so no stupid ads compete for my attention.
  3. I use Twitter to connect with interesting people, not to follow celebrity and political nonsense. I’m heavy on filtering what comes through my feed so it’s useful and surprising; not distracting.
  4. I don’t engage in trivial and routinary conversations with people. While this comes across as being anti-social, what matters to me is my time is spent learning. Remember, I’m only focused on that which adds value to my life and where I can add it; and to me trivial and routinary conversations are like junk food: you get the feeling of eating but with no long-term health benefits.
  5. Video games are my kryptonite, I can become easily obsessed and distracted; so I’ve cut down on these.

This is not an exhaustive list, and it shouldn’t be. You have to be ruthless about what matters to you, questioning your assumptions and be willing to say to NO. Once you’re clear, saying no will come easy.

This isn’t to say I don’t daydream, procrastinate and be anti-social. As a creative person you have to daydream and procrastinate, it comes with the territory. More important is the value of the people who you socialize with. I’ve figured out how to do it in a strategic and structured way that helps me achieve my desired outcomes; remember that inputs determine outputs.


Bottom line: You are what you pay attention to. What we see, read and listen to affects our perception, which drives what we believe. We have to take control of our attention if we’re to achieve our desired outcomes; it’s our choice.

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You Are What You Pay Attention To