The Distraction Diet

A daily struggle in the connected world is the battle against the red bubble. Every morning, waking up to a barrage of notifications all competing for your attention. Not to mention the drop down menus, email dings and the false vibrations you think you feel throughout the day. Countless interruptions fuelling us throughout the day — I like to call this phenomenon the distraction diet.

What’s on the menu?

The distraction diet is one diet that isn’t hard to stick to. Why’s that? Because each one of those little red bubbles is like a shot of dopamine for the brain. Humans love dopamine. Once the flow starts, it’s hard to stop, in fact, we don’t have control over it. Dopamine is usually reserved for high-stress situations, sharpening our senses to help avoid danger. So it turns out that the influx of alerts throughout the day, in turn, are keeping us more alert? Well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t want to get too deep into the science, but, research has suggested that chronic exposure to high-stress environments that insinuate the release of hormones such as dopamine can cause memory deficits and poor concentration. So could our smart phones be making us less smart?

So what happens when the dopamine river runs dry? Well, it’s easy to top it back up by flicking from page to page on your home screen or spamming refresh on your email. If we want it, we’ll find it. The interesting fact here is that most of us know what’s going on in our heads. We’re aware of what’s happening. We know we’re being distracted. We know there's other things we could be doing, instead we keep playing the slot machines in our pocket hoping for a different outcome each time. The good news? We get what we want; a different outcome every time. That’s why we forget the little voice in our heads that’s telling us we should be talking to the person sitting in front of us and keep scrolling.

As previously mentioned, dopamine is usually released in response to stress. What’s more stressful than trying to neglect a dinging notification? The feeling of trying to resist checking to see what that latest alert was is almost impossible to ignore.

Let me paint a scenario:

Person: *Working diligently away at that assignment that’s due in 6 hours*

A wild notification appears.

Person: *Checks notification* — *Dopamine begins flowing*
1.5 hours later…..
Person: Where did the time go? I need to get back to my work!

Now suddenly 6 hours has become 4.5 hours, rinse and repeat this process a couple more times and there’s suddenly a shortage of assignment work done, but the distraction levels remain at their usual high. Now, of course, there are ways to avoid these kinds of scenarios. Complying with the distraction diet isn’t compulsory.

Breaking the diet

Unlike a normal addiction, distractions are likely something we will never be able to truly stop. They’re a part of society now. Whole product lines are based on the simple fact that distractions are addicting. Fortunately, there are ways we can mitigate the way distractions influence our lives.

Here’s how I (try to) do it:

  • Do not disturb. If I haven’t manually turned my phone & Mac on do not disturb, it’s more than likely scheduled to be. I’ve got it set up by default to be on between 7pm-10am. This allows me to get what I want done in the early mornings without constant pings. It also provides an ample window before bedtime. A shot of dopamine before bed doesn’t lead to the best sleep.
  • Quitter for Mac. One of the most simple and effective ways to eliminate the constant flow of interruptions. Quitter automatically quits an app you have open on your Mac when you haven’t it used for a certain period of time. Quitting the app altogether prevents intermittently checking it for updates every couple of minutes, instead of checking it at scheduled intervals.
  • Avoiding multitasking. Human beings cannot multitask. It has been proven several times over that we simply can’t, instead we switch between individual tasks very quickly. Take reading a book whilst watching TV for example — it can’t happen. Multitasking may even be killing your brain. Focusing on one task is hard enough, let alone more than one. Doing less but better is key to creating great work and minimising distractions.
  • Scheduled checks. Of course, this may not be viable for everyone but I’ve found it very effective. I only check email once per day and I only check other social media sites once per day. Each of these checks has their own scheduled time. This not only reduces the constant scrolling but it still allows me to get my red bubble fix.
  • Put it down. I’m not a fan of situations like below. In the rare times I get to enjoy a meal with friends and/or family I simply either leave my phone at home or put it facedown in the middle of the table (on silent of course). The relationships you have with other people are the most important thing in life, the red bubbles can wait.


A balanced diet

Of course, I know the tips above won’t work for everyone, but they have for me. Everyone is different. Some may need access to their devices 24/7, some may run businesses on social media so those little red bubbles mean money. For those who don’t, the above is for you. It’s something incredibly hard to do, but if you can find a happy medium amongst the noise, I applaud you.

But what if I miss out on something?

Well, that’s definitely a reality but at some point, a decision has to be made on what you’re going to say no to. It’s up to you to figure out what matters most. What trade-offs have to be made? I can post and talk about tips and tricks all day, but in the end, the decision comes down to the individual. Think about this, if you want to make something that truly matters, it’s highly unlikely it’s on the end of endless feed scroll.

Let’s start consuming less and creating more.

This post was created to further my response to Why can’t we read anymore?