It was clean. I’d just moved on from another dirty room, so I had a clean slate, a chance to start anew. I had those naive ideas and dreams you have when you think about what something could be vs. what will actually happen. Much like the sentiment a lot of us experience as we navigate a new week, thinking “I'm gonna start waking up earlier ” or "This week is the week where I'll be better about not procrastinating things" even though the opposite ends up happening. Here's another way of thinking about it: how good are you really at keeping New Year Resolutions or abstaining from the things you said you were giving up for Lent?
You have a fun time fantasizing what that perfect version of you could be and yet you end up letting the flawed person fantasize and subsequently remain, somehow getting distracted in the process. Having “genuine” daydreams is simple, but executing on those same thoughts is where we’ll likely drop the ball. That’s why my room’s been looking like this for 6 months:
Pictured above is what I could only capture with my sh*tty pano-ing - what a millennial word, my god - skills. “Dirty” doesn’t begin to describe the state of my room. I still have packed boxes that I still need to go through from when I first moved in. It’s a problem, I know, but I also just don’t care enough. I’d have a clean room if I actually gave a damn about it. To put it into perspective, it’s so dirty that my friend Dom wrote me a heartfelt note and at the end said:
Clean your room.
Waking up in the middle of the night is a struggle because a) I can’t see because, duh, it’s dark and b) I trip over all the sh*t that’s on the floor.
I’ve always treated my room like one giant laundry hamper. You too? Let’s be friends. But now that we’re friends, you need to clean your damn room. I believe this would be classified as a First World Problem.
Distractions? I’ve Had a Few
We’re about to address the elephant in the blog post: how could my room stay dirty for so long? Partly because I’ve grown apathetic towards the cleanliness of it, honestly, but the absence of a significant other helps too (kidding, sort of).
What I’ve narrowed it down to mostly though is this: I’m easily distracted.
The way distractions play out in my life:
I use them to escape the task at hand which, currently, is to clean my room. I tried cleaning before I started to write this, but I ended up watching one (several) episodes of the Better Call Saul. I replace calling my mom with FailArmy videos on YouTube. Rather than doing the dishes, I’ll play Super Smash Brothers Brawl with my roommate, Kyle. Like I said earlier, I’m statistically consistent in choosing a distraction over the thing that actually needs to get done which again is, currently, cleaning my room. Allow “room” to function as a metaphor for the something you’re putting off.
We’re all Distracted Together
We’ve had a distraction-based culture in the U.S., and other Westernized countries, for a while now, and it’s a bleak future we’re moving toward. For children aged 4-17 in the U.S., 11 percent of them have been diagnosed with ADD at some point in their lives. And boys? They’re 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADD than girls (CDC). Statistics like these prompt a response of “Huh. Interesting.” and then we move on. But it’s not just kids these stats apply to. The CDC also says that ADHD in adults is a diagnosis for 4 percent of the population, but that number is an inaccurate display of its prevalence, as many adults most likely have undiagnosed cases of ADHD. Being diagnosed with ADHD or ADD
Consider the distractions you encounter on a daily basis. Think of all of the information you are being bombarded with. Turn left, there’s porn. Turn right, and there’s Snapchat. Look up, there’s a flat screen TV telling you what to buy, how to look, and the score to some game you have no investment in, but you keep watching anyway. Look down, and you might see - I can’t think of anything clever to write at this point - shoes.
(I get caught up by the shoes people wear a lot. I don’t know why, but it’s an item that I’ll fixate on and give way too much thought before qualities far more important.)
Being a person today is supposed to be better than it was hundreds of years ago, or so they say. Sometimes I think life would be a hell of a whole lot easier without Instagram, drones, and television, but then I’d be sacrificing medical and technological advances that have saved people’s lives. I’m glad I don’t have to make difficult decisions for all of us because I’d probably overthink it, get distracted, and completely forget what I was even doing. *resonating intensifies*
How I see distractions play out with others:
- When you go out to dinner with friends, does a lull in the conversation spark a sudden need in you to check the “amazingly cool”, (actually) irrelevant sh*t is happening on your curated social feed? Me too, but I’m trying to work on it
- Marriage, a beautiful covenant you may or may not enter into with another person, is riddled with divorce. Explicit reasoning for each of these will differ case by case, but I have a hunch that a lot of people either got distracted before or after entering this bond, resulting in them losing sight of the real reason/purpose/function of marriage
- Deep into Youtube sessions (self-explanatory) when you should be working
Why? When did we lose focus? Or did we ever have it?
We're Obsessed With Novelty and Loathe Boredom
Adam and Eve know this best. Instead of sticking with the good thing God had given them - the Garden of Eden - they chose to go with something new, even if it’d be their downfall. I'll admit that new is an exciting feeling because it's unknown, but I also hate that paying attention to what we're familiar is so hard for many of us. Is your Facebook newsfeed more important than the person sitting directly in front of you? You know my answer.
As a high school student, I distinctly remember texting a friend one day and asking her what she was up to. She responded with *surprise* what she was doing at the time, and eventually asked me what I was doing too. And I said, “Nothing really, I’m just bored so I thought about texting you.” That’s when she replied, “Oh wow! Thanks for only thinking about me when there’s nothing better.” Being the clueless 16-year-old that I was, her text went right over my head. Until this very moment did I actually understand how unvalued I must have made her feel. Imagine if you were an afterthought for most of your friends. Maybe you feel like that right now. Worse, maybe, you’re one of those people that make others feel that way.
My error was that I treated her as a form of entertainment and I continue treat people like that all the time. In some ways we're innocent about it, like a comedian or athlete. In other ways, we're not, like a stripper or prostitute. Transaction-based relationships aren’t relationships at all when both parties aren’t being treated like humans. How else can we connect with each other unless we have some sort of connection on our shared humanity. If and when that happens with people you encounter, it's a straight path toward the same thoughts that lead people like Hitler to dehumanizing an entire people group.
I could keep going on that, though, but I won’t. Maybe we can talk more about it over a beer? Cool. Instead, I’ll try to narrow down distractions into two categories; a decision I’ll most likely regret once people start reading this and suggest I structure it differently.
A Granular Breakdown of Distractions
By this point, I hope you’ve figured out what rooms you have in your life. If you haven’t, then you’re a better person than I am. As a reminder, the “dirty room” is the important thing you should be doing, but you don’t do it.
When Distractions Stray
My room is a perfect example of this. Master of None, cigarettes, and Imgur have all played a part in why it remains dirty. They’re straying me away from the end goal of a clean room. Here's an equation to break my methodology down:
Distractions + Room ≠ Clean if Distractions > Room
(Math was never my forte.)
Think of a time you went out to the sink in hopes of purging the god-awful stench radiating from its bowels, seeping into other parts of your home because you chose Netflix 5 nights in a row over washing your dishes. You're so intent on getting the dishes done and eliminating the smell once and for all. But then you get a text. Swipe and it read “OMG CHECK OUT THIS LINK. <bit.ly>.” I’m not sure what everyone’s response is to all caps texts, but they're damn good at enticing me. And if they grab your attention, then the above task of washing the dishes is temporarily put on hold because a it has - you guessed it - pulled you away.
There’s the whole distracted driving trend too, which a slew accidents and deaths are attributed to nowadays.
A dirty room, distracted driving, and washing dishes are examples we're fairly familiar with though.
Here’s something rawer, more dramatic, but equally real: there’s also the man consumed with habitual substance abuse. He chooses them as a cure and distraction from mulling over a traumatic event that took place in high school. He and his girlfriend found out they were pregnant, and instead of having the child, they aborted it. Now, he still feels the guilt in his 40s, with a beautiful wife and children. The habit will eventually kill him, but for now, the substances keep the thoughts at bay.
Substances are like using mentos to cover your bad breath. They'll mask your breath, but won't do jack sh*t to protect your teeth from cavities.
Plus, quick-fixes seem more appealing because they’re fast. And we like fast. Fast cars. Fast food. Fast cash. Just be prepared for more than you bargained for. Like the duct tape job on a leaking pipe: the leak is sealed for now, but as time passes the duct tape will stop holding back whatever’s leaking out of your pipe. You’re then faced with two options: more duct tape, or call a plumber? Plumbers are more time-consuming because you have to wait for the plumber, you have to be home when the plumber shows up, and plumbers also take cash out of. Right then, let’s go with the duct tape.
Your leaky pipe is still leaky, and it’s staying that way no matter how much duct tape you use. Only with a plumber will you see the leak truly fixed.
You can keep straying yourself away from your dirty rooms, guilt, and trauma, but at the end of the day, they’re still there. They, unfortunately, won’t disappear, so you have to do something about them. The something is up to you because you most likely know what plumber you need call.
Overall I feel like I've been addressing distractions with a negative tone, but distractions are rarely black and white, much like life. They’re both good and bad, it just depends on the context.
When Distractions Save
For those of you that haven’t watched the video above, I encourage you to right now. And even if you’re familiar with it, take 30ish seconds and do so again.
How does he divert the young girls (let’s call her Mindy) focus? He sings “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
Mindy should never have to think about or, let alone, be in a situation where her dad’s limp and lifeless in the car she’s grown familiar with all her life. Meanwhile, mommy and sissy are screaming, trapped in a vehicle where emergency personnel are trying to get them out.
In moments of trauma, we need our own police officer singing a lullaby so we don’t have to think about the bad. A quote by Frederick Buechner comes to mind when I watch a video like that.
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.
At the age of six, I witnessed my father dying of alcohol poisoning. Young and naive to the baggage my family possessed, the door was literally and figuratively opened to my dad’s substance abuse. I was young when daily struggles included learning how to color inside the lines and sharing with others: kindergarten stuff. Six-year-old Tyler had a reality check.
There are three boys that live across the street from me, and whenever dad comes home, they immediately light up. Even the thought of dad gets them rambling on and on about how great he is, what he does for them, or what they’ll be doing with him once he gets home. As his truck pulls up, they’ll start screaming “Dad’s home!!!”, run to the truck, and embrace him like he’s been away for years. I’d do the same with my dad every. single. day. That same man was now lying on the floor, seizing and struggling to breathe.
I forget who it was, but an adult saw my older brother and I watching this bleak scene play out. Acting quickly, she rushed to where we sat playing with our toys, turned us away from the view, and asked if we’d like to pray. So we did. As the ambulance rushed my father out of the house, I was busy praying he’d be okay.
I'd thought my prayers had gone unanswered the next morning; I learned he wasn't coming home.
I’m in need of no pity, but I’d like for you to understand something: at 25, think that prayer saved my life, not my dads. In retrospect, maybe praying “I hope everything is okay” was really for me. My friend Dom aptly described that mystery adult’s action as “saving [me].” In a sense, I owe my life to that person. Thank you mystery adult.
You’ve seen the cartoon where the protagonist, like Bugs Bunny, is walking into a trap: there’s a piano dangling overhead as our hero walks onto the mark. Scene transition to the antagonist waiting patiently for the opportune moment to cut the rope suspending the piano. As he does, Bugs gets distracted by a pretty female bunny and walks away from a near-death situation. As the piano crashes to the ground, audiences breathe a sigh of relief that their favorite character is still in the game.
It’s a scene we’re all too familiar with, but there are real life examples you’re probably thinking of too. There’s a CVS very close to my house, so one fairly uneventful Saturday night I decided I should go get some toothpaste from said CVS. Instead, I was distracted by a movie my roommate was watching. 5 minutes later we heard gunshots. I learned the next day a man had been killed in a drive-by shooting. What if I had been there? Would I have died? Maybe. Maybe not. I have a distraction to thank for not being there, though.
We’re All Doomed Then (Not Really)
I don’t have a cure for distractions waiting for you sprinkled in here somewhere, or a “8 Ways to Live a Distraction-Free Life” plug. I genuinely think we’re stronger because we’re curiously distracted creatures.
Being consumed with distractions is obviously a negative, but acknowledging that fact that we need distractions to live is where I’m finding myself. Yeah, could we do away with some of them? Probably.
Distractions will happen. You’ll stare at cute guy or girl as they pass by mid-conversation with your mom. A click bait article title will consume your entire lunch break when you were trying to finish your research paper. It’s okay.
For those of you that have made it this far, I'm proposing a challenge. Pinpoint one distraction in your life that you’ve grown tolerant of. Acknowledge it as a distraction, and try to be mentally aware of it the next time you’re wanting to give it attention. Now you can ask yourself why. Why do you love this thing with such fervor? What makes it so appealing to your brain in the moment? What were you doing before the distraction came to mind?
Get yourself to think about the distraction rather than think about the distraction. Read that sentence again, it’ll make sense.
Your distractions will start to change shape and your sentiments towards them will follow. It’s done me good and, while I can’t promise anything out of this experiment for you personally, I hope you learn something. I hope you learned something from this blog too. If not, I’ll try better next time.