How many hours/days/weeks/months/years have you spent reading emails from other activist friends... watching videos and reading articles they’ve sent... then reading/watching additional selections offered on that page... which send you to other pages with still more tempting selections to follow... which remind you of something you just remembered you needed to buy...?
It’s addictive. And it’s meant to be.
Online news, editorial, and video sites bombard you with more and more intriguing links. Social media pages have no end...on purpose. You scroll down, you interact, and by the time you get to the bottom of the page, there’s more below that.
You probably know all this. You may have complained or even ranted about it recently.
And yet you still get sucked into the same trap over and over again.
If JOM is the bait, the fear of missing out (FOMO) is the hook. The mere idea of ignoring your friend’s link may make you feel very uncomfortable. Afraid, even. Afraid you might look stupid or ignorant in the next conversation. Afraid your friend might stop sending you things. Then you’ll be totally blind, out of the loop, irrelevant. Afraid you’ll lose your position of authority, your power. Afraid your friend or your entire group might even reject you.
Meanwhile, you know down deep there’s something else you SHOULD be doing. But that “something” is typically harder, requires thinking or exercise, or is generally less pleasant than “just one more.”
(And yes, in some perverse way, we can find our existence in this hamster wheel of endless bad news to be oddly pleasurable. That should be our first clue something's wrong.)
And it’s not just the bait our manipulators are dangling at us. We often generate our own distractions, things we fool ourselves into believing make a difference, when they really don’t. Things like, um, writing blog posts, or creating websites or videos. Perhaps a few such projects really can make a difference. Most times, though, we’re just “looking busy.” We don’t stop to consider the value and impact of the tasks we spend so much of our valuable time on, and ask ourselves what we should be doing instead.
And because we’re activists, because we’re “awake,” we think can’t be seduced. But we can. We’re simply seduced by different things. The manipulators know this.
They study us, analyze our motivations, reactions and behaviors. They read our blogs and comments. They know more about us than we know about ourselves. And they use that knowledge to keep us distracted.
From making money, and from making a difference
And yet, opportunities are all around us that require no special skills and that have made millionaires of those willing to work hard and smart. But finding and taking advantage of those opportunities requires a steady focus. Distraction destroys that focus. Distraction keeps us broke and powerless.
The truth is that we may never really break the addiction. We can only resist temptation. Resistance is a one-day-at-a-time process, just like that of other addicts. And just like other addicts, we can benefit from a few easy-to-remember steps.
One of my favorite expressions is, “Know what you’re doing and do it on purpose.” If you have a specific task to do online, get in, do it, and get out. If you have a more general task, like “check emails,” define what that really means before you get online, then stick to your guidelines. It's also okay to give yourself permission to zone out on the web all day after a long hard work week. Just know what you’re doing and do it on purpose.
Know what what other tasks are competing for your valuable (and limited) time. Make a list of ALL tasks waiting to be done, and rate their priority levels. Also include things you want to do. Just make sure everything that’s standing in line waiting for some of your time is accounted for.
Before you click a link or start a video playing, before you hit “Reply” or Reply All” or “Forward” to an email, before you copy and paste a link and open a new email to share the link...stop and ask yourself a few questions first to decide whether to explore the distraction or ignore it.
Use the flowchart* below to test news or any potential distractions for worthiness of your time.
Unless you have consciously given yourself time off to mindlessly surf the web, figure out what you expect to get out of whatever distraction you’ve decided to explore. Then get in, get what you need, and get out. If there’s a written transcript of a video, skim through that to find the parts you want rather than sitting through an hour or two for the five minutes of relevant information.
Be thoughtful of others’ valuable time as well. When you send out a link, provide a very brief description of the resource and why the user might be interested. If you share a whole article for one specific quote, just paste the quote into the email along with a link to the full story. If you recommend a video for specific segment, include in your email the video’s overall length, along with the start and end time of any specific segments you want your friend to see.
And now...it's confession time...
Let me be the first to step up and admit it. My name is Pat, and I’m a distractaholic.
Yes. I recently hit a creative roadblock on a project some of us feel is THE best use of our activist time right now. But instead of working on that hard thing, I’ve made up two new projects to work on over the past week. First there's this very blog post. Plus I’ve now spent two days on a one-minute video nobody asked for and that I will probably revise at least one more time.
Do I think these might be useful tools for our community? Yes. Were they anywhere near the top of my priority list? Well hell, who am I kidding? They weren’t even ON my to-do list. (I DO have one of those lists, by the way, a very good one in fact.) So even though I did some arguably good things this week, I SHOULD have been doing the harder, priority things instead.
Now it's your turn to confess...
And finally, here are two thoughts to take with you for the coming weeks:
1. The most powerful way to block or neutralize psychological warfare efforts (including seductive distractions) is to be fully aware of them.
2. Once aware, you need self-discipline to keep focused on your own thoughts, observations, and priorities.
I’ll write about self-discipline later when I get mine back.