I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.
Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.
My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits.
Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of Distraction.
Whenever I’m tempted to break a good habit (or indulge in a bad habit, two sides of the same coin), I say to myself, “I can leave my desk—in fifteen minutes.” The delay of fifteen minutes is often long enough for me to get absorbed in something else. If I distract myself sufficiently, I may forget about a craving entirely.
When we distract ourselves, we purposefully redirect our thoughts, and by doing so, we change our experience.
Of course, it’s not enough to be distracted; we must distract ourselves in the right way. Checking Pinterest isn’t a good distraction for the person who wants to break the habit of late-night online shopping; reading a mystery would work better.
Also, making a purely mental shift can be difficult, so distraction works best when it involves some physical activity: walking around the block, woodworking, or cleaning out the kitty-litter box. Of course, if it’s an enjoyable distraction, such as playing catch with a child, so much the better.
Using the Strategy of Distraction doesn’t mean trying to suppress an unwelcome thought, but rather deliberately shifting attention. When we try to squash a particular thought, we may trigger the “ironic rebound,” so that paradoxically, we think about it all the more.
Although people often assume that cravings intensify over time, research shows that with active distraction, urges—even strong urges—usually subside within about fifteen minutes.
Do you use the Strategy of Distraction to help you master your habits?