On distraction

Strengths and weaknesses are context-dependent.

I often hear concentration praised. The capacity to remain unaffected by noise in our environment, stay focused on a complex task, and achieve consistent results over long periods, this is a desirable trait. Not so the tendency to switch off fast: sensitivity codes weakness and incompetence.

Yet excessive concentration can harm. Always follow the usual procedure, irrespective of changes in environmental conditions: surely, nothing bad could ever come out of that? Easily distracted people may be better at adapting – always shifting, always balanced in a fluid world.

Saturation stiffens then? Concentration kills? By the same token, excessive distraction amplifies ambient chaos. Never resist entropy, surely, no wrong could ever come out of that?

The message should not be therefore, how can we concentrate better, or how can we become better lateral thinkers? But rather, when is it appropriate to court distraction, and when is it appropriate to ward it off. Neither teachers nor managers seem to make a very good job of it, unfortunately.

On blocks

Sometimes, when we work with our minds, whether it’s writing, research or design, we get stuck.

It’s a recognizable feeling, both mental and physical. The back starts to hurt, the jaw clamps, the shoulders and arms tense up. Ideas no longer flow, but sentences or words, to-dos and cliches, echo like earworms inside the brain. We look for distraction, social media, chats, games, or good old food and drink. Walking or stretching should fix it, but most often, it doesn’t. And the pain continues.

In teams, I’ve seen it happen. Tension grows, aggressivity threatens. The solution is always to name the problem, move bodies around, and seek another way of interacting. Drawing often works, or dancing, singing. Let the dynamic change, make space for new collective patterns to emerge.

But alone, I struggle more. The tension is different, it lacks the urgency of potential aggression – carries no more than a dull sense of annoyance towards the world and the self. And so, it lingers.

I wonder today, whether the work of the mind could be compared to that of polishing wood. As we pass the file on our ideas, sometimes we meet a knot, a solid block hiding in the grain, where things don’t flow. This is where we get stuck. If we keep on pushing, we might hurt ourselves, or ruin the whole work.

So what should we do? We could start by acknowledging that knots are a crucial element in the fabric of our minds. And when we meet one, rather than grudge and grumble, celebrate this encounter with a something solid in the fleeting fabric of our thoughts. Gently caress it with our inner hand, feeling its shape, letting it be. And over time, as we learn about our different knots, decide whether we should circle around it, or forcefully cut through.