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Distraction has many impacts, but one, at least in my experience, is that it greatly slows down learning to adapt. 

Here is an example from much earlier in my life, (so you’ll know it’s not primarily an age effect). 

One of my college part-time jobs was as an A/V assistant. It was actually a very cool job, because I got to travel all over the University and show movies or slides in classes in architecture, collagen, aging, genetics, sociology, Shakespeare, etc. I would typically arrive at work and get a “kit” which was basically a small suitcase with whatever A/V equipment was required for a particular gig. On the outside, the supervisor had used a magic marker to write on a piece of masking tape a building number, a room number, and the time I was to be there. Depending on the location, it could take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes for me to get to a particular location, if I was already familiar with the room. There were maps on campus to show where all the buildings were, but once inside, signage varied tremendously from building to building. Some buildings were laid out logically and some had lots of signage. Some had both. Some had neither. 

When I went to a new location, there were many times I came to T-shaped intersection and had to make a “blind” choice as to which hall led to my assigned room. If, say, I turned right, I might look at the numbers on various classrooms and determine that I had gone the wrong way so I’d turn around and get to the assigned room. What’s interesting is what happened the second time I went to that same room. You might think I would turn left because, after all, a week earlier, I had discovered that I needed a left turn to efficiently reach my goal. If someone had asked me where the room was, I would have known without a doubt. But in the actual moment, that’s not what I did.

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What I actually did when I reached the choice point was turn right, just as I had initially done. I would take a few steps down the wrong hallway and wake up to the fact that I was going the wrong way. And what do you suppose happened the third time I reached that decision point? Would I turn to the left in a nice smooth way? No. I would still turn right. I would begin to take a step to the right and then stop dead in my tracks and turn to the left.

Why had it taken me three tries to learn instead of just once? You may think, “Oh, that’s just the way people are.” I think it would be closer to the truth to say, “Oh, that’s just the way we people are.” That is to say, the culture of hyper-competitiveness keeps most of us, certainly including me, pre-occupied most of our waking hours. Walking on the reasonably well-lit regular corridors of a university campus did not require my full attention. So, my mind was always churning on about something else when I came to the decision point. 

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Of course, that’s just one example. There are many others. I learned at an early age to multi-task. Sometimes, that may be useful to me just as your multi-tasking is sometimes useful to you. But there is at least one important downside. 

You’re being in a constant state of busy-ness makes it harder for you to notice that you need to learn something new and it makes it harder to do something even if you do see the need. If you come to a choice point and make the wrong choice, in many cases, you can figure that out fairly easily — if you’re paying attention. If you cut yourself off from what is really happening, learning, change, adaptation — it all becomes much harder. You can cut yourself off in many ways: alcohol, drugs, being a workaholic — but my favorite is distraction. 

While distraction has it’s pros and cons for me, and likely for you, the constant busy-ness is wonderful for business. They will sell you anything and everything to distract you. But here’s a fun thing to do. 

Take a break.

Concentrate on one thing at a time.

Try it for an hour.

Try it for a day.

Do you really get less done? Do you have more pleasure or less? Do you learn more quickly or more slowly? 


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