Here’s a challenge: Can you read this article from beginning to end without being distracted? And how will any distractions affect your ultimate understanding of the subject? The answers might surprise you.
We tend to think that distractions are a normal part of life, but it’s often a valuable exercise to take a step back and consider the impact of constant interruptions. Why is this important? Like most people, you have a lot to accomplish every day. You also have goals you want to reach. Perhaps you want to work towards greater health, making a bigger impact with the work you do or improving your relationships. Not being able to focus can impact your ability to reach those goals.
The Hidden Cost of Distraction
Interestingly, many people argue that they are more efficient when they are busy and multi-tasking. In fact, researchers have found that we do actually work faster when we’re faced with a lot of distractions. According to Ayurveda, this is a quality of the “vata dosha,” a bioenergy that we all have within our mind-body framework. However, some individuals have it as an innate quality and others have it as an adaptive quality. If it’s innate, one thrives through multi-tasking.
However, studies have also found that the cost of distractions affects something far more important than your productivity: your wellbeing. That’s because distractions make you feel more stressed and anxious. And higher levels of anxiety can affect every part of your body.
Regardless of the bioenergy quality within you, when distraction is adaptive or higher than what one can handle or for a long period of time, it throws the vata dosha into a chronic state of imbalance. When vata dosha or “air” bioenergy is imbalanced, anxiety becomes one of the most common symptoms.
Being distracted can also affect your accuracy. It makes sense. Your brain can only handle so much input at a time. However, what is surprising is how little it takes to derail your focus and affect your accuracy. As little as three seconds of distraction (the time it takes to glance at your phone after it beeps) can affect your focus and, in turn, your accuracy.
Distraction Recovery Time
The effects of even short distractions are startling. One study found that it takes an astounding 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain your focus after an interruption. Let’s put that in perspective for a moment. How often does your phone ring or beep while you’re doing something else? If it takes over 20 minutes to recover from every notification, how much of your day is spent in “distraction recovery”? And does the loss of that time affect your long-term health and your goals?
Altered Memory Function
Consider what happens when you are looking things up while you watch a movie. Do you really follow the plot as carefully? Do you remember the details of the movie as well? Science suggests that you don’t. In fact, researchers have found that the way we remember things has changed since the advent of the internet. Our memory functions have been altered. Ancient Yogic and Ayurvedic texts repeatedly mention the impact of distraction on human behavior. Indeed, a close relationship of nature and the number and frequency of thoughts we create per day directly influence the behaviour of our internal organs including brain, gut, joints, skin and ears. Our respiration, circulation and nervous responses are greatly dependent on our overall thoughts and related actions.
How to Prevent Distractions
If you would like to minimize the impact of distractions in your life, it’s important to recognize the distinction between a needed break and a distraction. A break can be a good time to rejuvenate and clear your mind. We’re typically more productive after we have stepped away from work for a bit. Breaks that are planned usually provide an incentive to work hard. In contrast, a distraction can come out of nowhere.
Although we tend to think of distractions as out of our control, we can take steps to reduce them. Here are some practical tips to start with:
1. Take Control of Your Devices
Yes, we all rely on our phones – but do we really need to be notified every single time something happens? This is a personal preference and will depend on your situation, but it helps to be aware that you can customize your phone’s notifications. For example, parents are often reluctant to turn their phones off in case their kids need them, but you can adjust your settings so that all but a few specific contacts are muted.
It’s ok to let people know that, starting now, you may not respond right away to email or text messages. If you get a lot of email at work, a good habit is to set aside specific times for checking your email, for example once every two hours or in the morning and at the end of the day.
2. Schedule Your Breaks
It’s important to take a break when focused on a lengthy task. You’re less likely to be distracted and stay on task if you schedule a bit of time to relax – see it as a reward if that helps. Regular breaks can actually make you more productive! However, those breaks should mindful ones, not filled with more things begging for your attention. So, take a walk, meditate or even have a quick nap – these all help build your life force or “prana.” The higher your prana, the clearer your mind.
3. Train Yourself to Regain Focus
Now that you understand how long it can take to regain your focus after each distraction, make a conscious effort to get back on task. Getting back on task requires a good mental “agni,” also called the “transformative fire.” If you think you need assistance in building your transformational agni, incorporate a few exercises in your routine such as: gentle rotational stretching and eye movement exercises.
Does the Way You Live Your Life Make It Harder to Pay Attention When It Matters?
It’s also important to look at how aspects of your lifestyle can affect your focus. If you’re rested and healthy, distractions may not impact you as much as they would otherwise.
Simple adjustments like introducing more fresh seasonal fruits or vegetables to your diet, or more self-care routines can positively impact your ability to focus and improve your response to interruptions. Lifestyle adjustments can include:
- 10-minute-a-day meditation practice
- going to bed 30 minutes earlier
- an essential oil-infused bath
- a warm oil self-massage
- washing your face with rose water
General Safe Herbs and Food that Can Help You Focus
- Brahmi “Bacopa monnieri”
- Tulsi “Holy Basil”
- Indian Valerian or Tagar “Valeriana wallichii”
- Rosemary “Rosmarinus officinalis”
- Coconut (fresh/oil)
- Almonds and walnuts
Outside Influences that Can Affect Your Focus
If you have tried all the tricks and still find it difficult to stay on task it might be a good idea to check on your health. Many imbalances such as thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies can lead to “foggy thinking” and slow response times. The good news is Ayurvedic Medicine effectively helps to uncover these issues with a proper health assessment. Ayurvedic Medicine includes various traditional diagnosis and prognosis methods including pulse reading and visual assessments such as eye, tongue and nail readings to determine the balance of your doshic state. In chronic conditions, a detoxification program called “panchkarma” (five-fold detox program) may be encouraged by the Ayurvedic practitioner.
Article prepared by Ismat Dhala-Nathani, Doctorate of Natural Medicine, Ayurvedic Practitioner
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