Do we need distractions to focus?
Zeroing-in on that task won’t help if your mind is empty.
You need to solve a problem, or you are just writing a long document for work, and you are feeling stuck. You write a phrase, erase it, re-write it and re-erase it. You reach out for advice to the highest authority out there, Google.
What do I do if I get stuck with my task? Thousands of results are there to help. Most of them will say the same thing: take a break, take a walk, think about something else, bla bla bla.
The Right Kind of Break
They have a point.
When we sit down and put the work in to make progress, it will usually work very well if the task is simple, repetitive or technical.
If the tasks requires creative approach or some degree of problem solving, our focus might not be the only tool we need to move forward.
Taking a break helps: you start thinking about something else (whether it’s your friends, that funny meme you saw, existential anxiety — whatever keeps you busy), you get lost in your thoughts, your neurons work their magic and BOOM! A new association is created and you have an interesting idea to work on.
Does it always work? No.
The Raw Materials
There is one necessary condition to make it work: you should have enough fuel in your brain to make the elements crash and breed new ideas. If you have a dull, routine-y life, the chances of you reaching a breakthrough just by letting your brain wander for a while are quite low.
A constant flow or diverse content will be enough to help. If you take the time to have interesting conversations with new people and read/listen/watch content on different topics, you probably have enough fuel to go.
There is a healthy but quite frustrating tension between concentration and diversion.
The time invested in diversion is not a break taken from concentrating on what matters: it’s an essential step we need to sustain and strengthen our thinking capacities.
From The Corridor To The Woods
It’s another proof of the toxicity of the fully-packed schedules and always-busy lifestyles.
It’s also an inspiring thought for those of us who are frustrated by our own anxiety.
You think you are anxious because you need to get stuff done. That’s correct, but incomplete.
You are anxious because you feel trapped: you think you cannot allow yourself to do anything else until you complete the task you are stuck on. The problem is that you won’t make progress, because you don’t allow yourself to think freely. You are running in an endless corridor, while you should be jumping around in the woods.
Take control of your distractions, make sure that they are interesting enough, and allow yourself to randomly explore new insights.
You will feel the difference next time you’ll take a break from that document you need to deliver.
If you liked this, you really should take a look at what happens here.