1.a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.
Normally I hear this word used in a negative context, like not staying on task due to a distraction or car accidents happening because of distracted drivers. There are lots of ways that distraction can be problematic in our lives and even serious. I’m not going to argue that. However in certain situations, I believe distraction can be useful tool.
When my kids were getting close to the age for orthodontics, it was recommended that they have some baby teeth extracted (instead of waiting for them to fall out). During the numbing process, the dentist instructed my daughter to lift her leg up to the ceiling, and then slowly lower it back down while he counted to ten. He told her that doing this helped. I was puzzled. Later he explained to me that this was a way to distract her mind from the numbing shots. It kept her thoughts focused on a task rather than being overly aware of what was going on inside her mouth. It was a distraction to prevent fear and anxiety, and it totally worked.
Recently a client at Pure Barre (where I teach), told me that the wintergreen lifesaver mints in the lobby serve as a distraction for her during class. Holding a mint in her mouth gets her through about two-thirds of the class, helping her to have something else to focus on rather than the discomfort of muscles being challenged. The same client has a friend who uses the same mints in the Pure Barre lobby as a distraction for her drive home to prevent herself from stopping for a cookie and soda after her workout.
If there is something that we don’t want to give our full attention to (like cravings or habits we want to break or unhelpful recurring thoughts or even physical pain), then finding a distraction could be a really good idea. It’s important to recognize however that trying to escape a negative feeling is not the same thing as distracting yourself from unhelpful pain. (Negative feelings shouldn’t necessarily be avoided; we are supposed to feel them and process them. It’s part of our life experience.) Distraction is only useful when we want to quickly and easily re-direct a thought that would otherwise trigger unhelpful pain.
Ultimately, it’s most helpful to have empowering thoughts prepared and ready to activate whenever we catch an unhelpful thought creep into our minds. But for situations like breaking a habit or experiencing physical pain, a distraction (like a mint in the mouth or moving the leg to new position while counting to ten, or any number of other positive distractions you can think of) can be a terrific tool to manage and move on.
(Figuring out new tools and ideas like this is becoming a favorite thing for me. It’s so empowering to realize how much I can do to influence my own life for the better. The concept for this post is still in infancy for me and I reserve the right to edit it all! 🙂 )