They plague me all day, every day. They seep into my morning prayers, they delay progress on my to-do lists, and even steal time away from my family.
I’m convinced the proverbial good intentions that pave the road to hell are a product of distractions. Distractions are harmful. They take us away from bettering our prayer, family and work lives.
Sometimes distractions get so bad I’m distracted from doing something I love (like gardening) by something I really don’t enjoy (like washing dishes). It’s almost as if my brain just wants me to do whatever I’m NOT supposed to be doing at the time, just to be contrarian.
The Catechism states in paragraph 2729:
The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction… To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve.
So how do we overcome these nasty little distractions? A few things I’ve tested out:
- Recognize what a distraction is: Temptation. Once we address distraction as a temptation, our approach to the distraction changes.
If I am experiencing distraction while I’m praying, I first acknowledge that my mind has wandered and then try to discern if either God is giving me an insight or if the devil is trying to interrupt – which turns out to be pretty easy to discern.
- Name your distraction. Naming is powerful in the bible. Note that God told Mary what Jesus was to be named. Paul was originally named Saul. Abraham was first known as Abram. Adam named all the creatures God created.
Naming creates order. Once we have named a distraction, we can instantly understand why we’ve become distracted. For instance, if I’m constantly checking my email, am I afraid of missing out on something? If my distraction is a game of Facebook, am I lying to myself about how I “need” a break?
So if Facebook is calling my name, I can call it out. “Hey Facebook. I know you really, really want me to hang out with you, but right now I have to finish this blog post. I have a few minutes for you at 3:00″ (see number 4).
- 5…4…3…2…1… This little countdown is really effective for me. I use it all the time to get myself out of rabbit holes and back on track. Almost like a rocket launch countdown, by the time I get to “one” all the resistance is gone and I’m able to peacefully go back to what I was supposed to be doing or concentrating on.
This is especially effective while saying longer rote prayers like the rosary. It’s one thing to shake my way out of distraction and force my attention back, but that seems to work only temporarily for me. Instead when I count backwards, my brain has time to resolve whatever caught my attention and return to peaceful prayer.
- Give yourself time to be distracted. We can’t be expected to be 100% “on top of it” 100% of our waking hours. Go ahead and schedule in 15 minutes of Facebook or whatever else your major distraction is. By choosing the activity rather than the activity choosing you, you eliminate the guilt that accompanies distractions.
- Start a Dump List. Sometimes my distractions like to disguise themselves as legit tasks I need to get done… “I can put off processing these orders because this inventory needs to get on the shelves.” “I’ll pray later because this house is a mess and needs to be cleaned now”.
If it’s the case where I’m finding I’m getting wrapped up in the wrong tasks, but those tasks really need to get done at some point, I put them on my Dump List.
One of the excuses I use on myself is that I need to get this other thing done now before I forget about it. However, by acknowledging the thought and putting it on my Dump List, I am at peace knowing I won’t forget about it.
This works in prayer, too. I keep a list with me of all the people and souls I am praying for so I don’t just randomly jump from one to the other.
As always, I’m a work in process. Goodness know I get ample opportunities to practice rejecting distractions every day. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. But there is merit in earnest effort.
What would you add to this list?
“Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” Eph 5:15-16