Education

Tangled in a web of distractions?

The power to enter and exit lies in your hands.

As you are reading this, in all probability, the “Planet of Distractions” has started exercising full power and control over you! Signals from various social media applications have begun to entice one to answer instant messages, view video links, respond to friend requests and hit the like/dislike button at frequent intervals. It has become so natural to be drawn into this orbit that it seems odd if our daily existence is not frequently interrupted by updates. Recently, while attending a driver’s education class, we were shown a video of the various ways in which gadgets distract drivers and how accidents (often fatal) occur while responding to text messages while driving. If we shift the scene from the road to the various ways in which we get distracted while performing different tasks, we can see the “invisible” accidents that occur as we allow these distractions to take control.

Sarla (name changed) was constantly rebuked by her teachers for submitting work assignments which showed lack of attention. The assignments would often be copied hastily from the Internet and would be filled with ideas which were not cohesive. Besides, being marked down severely for plagiarising, her teachers were unable to understand why a student such as Sarla, who participated in class and contributed original ideas to discussions, showed such disparity in the work she submitted. We worked with Sarla on time management and organisational skills, Besides this, we found that the environment where she worked was a perfect milieu for distractions to sow their seed. She had access to her phone and was constantly texting and chatting with friends, while multitasking to complete assignments. She confided that she would often get so drawn into the distractions, that she eventually finished her assignments in an anxious, harried manner. She had no idea that not only were distractions costing her in terms of poor grades, but also marring her true potential.

While this might seem obvious, many of us are caught in this net, completely unaware of how these distractions hamper the quality of attention. Many work spaces complain of employees spending long hours using the Internet for their own personal communication. In work scenarios where one has to directly deal with the customer/client, this becomes more obvious. A friend who was speaking to a counsellor, trying to resolve a personal crisis, was shocked when the counsellor began texting and answering calls, in the midst of a session. Needless to say, she walked out, outraged by the lack of professionalism. At the very core, people have a need to be heard, and when we plunge ourselves in our distractions, we lose a valuable connection. That loss can cost one professionally or personally, where our relationships with others can often be severed by our apparent “busyness” with our distractions. A parent, who had come to a meeting, shared that his home was beginning to resemble a call centre, where the entire family was sitting in the same house, communicating to each other via these mediums!

Awareness

One of the first things to do is to observe carefully and honestly (without judgment) how we really operate. This would show that we ourselves are spinning a web of distractions around us. The lure of this medium is that it gives us an illusion that we are connected and we feel we need to constantly feed it by instant responses. When we actually see through this, it can give us a great sense of freedom. We can use all these mediums with more wisdom, and thereby become masters of it rather than its slave.

At a practical level, this can be done by disciplining ourselves to switch off these distractions and using the Internet and the various mediums only to assist us in our work. To set a time when one checks messages which does not interfere with the work given. There are many ways in which one can alter one’s habits and it really depends on one’s environment. The best way is to experiment with it and see how, when you work without these constant disruptions, the quality of attention improves, creating a positive impact on the assignment/work you are working on. As one works with it, in full awareness, one finds a balance that naturally evolves.

Many years ago, there was a dosa seller near our school. While his dosas were extremely popular, it was also a joy to watch him work. The way he gently poured batter and swirled it, until it turned golden, was like watching a master artist at work. Every dosa was given a quality of attention. A man of few words, his passion for his work was translated to the best dosas served in the neighbourhood! We might have come across people like this in different spheres of life. A doctor who was well known in the locality for his charitable nature was visited by a servant who used to work for us. After her visit, what impressed her most was not the low cost of care, but the attention with which he listened. Though he actually spoke little, his words conveyed that he had understood her predicament and had responded from that space of attention. She said she felt most of the pain disappear even before taking his medication! The quality of attention with which we live our lives creates a canvas of beauty for us to engage with ourselves and the world around us.

The power to exit the planet of distractions is in our hands. We can switch it on and we can switch it off. The challenge is to see the value of giving our distractions a rest and finding ways in which we can work, study and live from a place of true beauty!

Enjoy your own journey, entering and exiting the Planet of Distractions!

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 5:43:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/Tangled-in-a-web-of-distractions/article15719128.ece

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