The Challenge of Distraction2 min read

When you are habitually distracted with instant gratification and trivial things, you eventually become indifferent toward your goals. You are satisfying the human need for fulfillment and purpose through small pleasures that promise you both, deliver neither, yet keep you addicted for more. Mindful Self-Discipline aims to break this vicious cycle and deliver you happiness on your own terms.

Socrates taught us that every person always seeks their own good, in every situation, as perceived in the moment. Your brain is wired to want to feel good. It spends part of its energy wanting to survive, and the rest of it seeking what feels good in your body, mind, and emotions. Once the brain is feeling good, for that moment this seeking energy (motivation) subsides, as you feel satisfied and there is no point in making any further effort. When the experience then wears off, the cycle begins again. 

You cannot change how the brain works, but you can decide how you spend your “seeking energy”—the type of good you pursue. If you spend it pursuing quick bouts of pleasure, there will be no energy left to pursue your deeper good—your aspiration. 

Pleasures are the fast food of happiness. You can get them quickly and inexpensively, but they won’t fulfill you. They don’t have the nutrients you really need. In the long term, they will only make you sick. 

Pleasures are a depreciating asset. The more you have them, the less happiness they deliver. Self-discipline is a much better investment. 

There is an emptiness in your soul that needs to be filled by actualizing your aspiration, living your values, and achieving your goals. That process takes time and often involves much effort. Meanwhile, you are tantalized by instant gratification. Every time you engage in it, though, you make a poor investment of your precious motivation energy. 

It’s okay to have pleasure and comfort too, in a balanced way. Self-discipline needs to be balanced, otherwise you may burn out. But if that is how you quench most of your brain’s thirst for happiness, then you are settling for very little. You are living on the surface. 

Between long-term goals (purpose) and short-term pleasures (instant gratification), what option will your brain often choose? Instant gratification. Unless you have developed a deep aspiration and effective awareness tools (the first two pillars of Mindful Self-Discipline). 

Distraction and temptations make you look away and forget about your goal; as a result, you lose part of your mojo. Your purpose loses power. You become a bit indifferent to it. So it is extremely important, in the path of Mindful Self-Discipline, that you learn how to manage distractions and temptations by developing greater self-awareness and self-control. 

These skills will only become more essential, as in our modern world the distractions and instant gratification opportunities grow more abundant, accessible, engaging, and addictive. Self-discipline will become rarer. This means that those who have discipline will easily stand apart and reap greater fruits. They will lead, and they will push the world forward. Even a little self-discipline will go a long way.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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