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The seven kinds of distraction that the most successful people avoid

By pa360, Jan 24 2015 11:06AM

On a particular afternoon, many years ago I was making chicken stew. Just as I had done many times before, I placed all the ingredients in a saucepan and left them to simmer on the cooker for 30 minutes. Given that I had successfully performed this task on previous occasions, I had absolute confidence in the outcome. However, this time I did something different - I fell asleep.


I don't remember how long I was asleep for, only that I was awoken from my slumber by the acrid smell of burning chicken. My stew had been reduced to a smouldering ruin, all because I had failed to pay attention to what I was doing. I think it is worth repeating that I didn't fail in my objective because I lacked the belief, skill or talent to complete the task. On the contrary, I failed in my objective because at a key moment I was distracted and lost focus. This is a sobering lesson because it reveals that by themselves skills, talents, competencies and experience amount to nothing without the ability to stay focused. So here are the seven kinds of distraction that the most successful people avoid.


1. The distraction of success

Success can be a major distraction primarily because it can lead to complacency. The danger of complacency is that complacent people rest on their laurels and take for granted the things that made them successful in the first place. The eco-system of success can also be a distraction for other reasons, notably because those who achieve success often attract people around them who will feed their insecurities, nourish their vanity and massage their egos. When others tell us what we want to hear, they wittingly or unwittingly shield us from what we need to know. As a matter of course, the most successful people surround themselves with those who will provide challenge, balance and context to their thinking and reasoning.


2. The distraction of discouragement

At some point everyone will experience disappointment of some description. By itself, disappointment is not final or definitive. However, where it becomes problematic is when disappointment leads to discouragement and where discouragement then results in indecision and unreasonable self-doubt. This in turn can provide a justification for giving up. With successful people, disappointment is contextualised in a completely different way. Instead of giving undue weight to disappointments, when things have gone wrong, focus is given to active learning in order to better understand what went wrong and what can be done better next time. In this way. the discouragement that comes from disappointment can be re-purposed to build resilience and persistence.


3. The distraction of significance

Not everything has the same level of importance. One of the things that really successful people are able to do is prioritise the most important issues, without being distracted by those that are of lesser significance. Think of it this way, if you have 100 things that you need to do of which 60 are desirable, 30 are essential and five are critical, which ones should be give the greatest priority? The critical ones right? Not only that, but really successful people would then be able to make discerning judgements about the apportionment of their time eg: they might spend 70 per cent of their time on the most critical things, with the rest of the time apportioned to essential tasks. The key learning point here is that successful people avoid spreading themselves too thinly, mindful that doing so can divert attention away from those things that matter most.


4. The distraction of preference

Successful people know that preference is the opposite of necessity. The things that we prefer to do are the ones that give us the greatest satisfaction or stimulation and reflect our personal interests and choices. Unfortunately preference can also be a major distraction, diverting focus and attention away from those things that are absolutely necessary. A manager who prefers to avoid difficult conversations with poorly performing employees, because they do not want to offend them, will likely encourage other employees to underperform. By contrast, a manager who does what is necessary, rather than what is preferable is more likely to take the difficult decisions if that is what will produce the most appropriate and successful outcomes.


5. The distraction of the moment

Have you ever observed the behaviour of people waiting to cross the road at a major pedestrian crossing? They will check the traffic lights, wait until it is safe and then walk across the road before the lights change. For the most part, people intending to get from one side of the road to the other take active steps to de-risk their behaviour. You do not for example see them reading newspapers, applying make-up or stopping to tie shoelaces in front of stationary traffic. The reason is because such behaviours are distractions that will increase one's exposure to risk and potentially lead to undesirable outcomes. Successful people understand the moment and are quickly able to distinguish that which is appropriate in the moment from all the other things that might be happening or could happen during that point in time.


6. The distraction of ambient noise

Noise is a powerful distraction. Not least because we routinely ascribe some sort of value to sound. For example, the sound of whispering can make us suspicious, the sound of laughter can make us curious and the sound of shouting can make us anxious. However, it is how we behave and respond when we hear ambient noise that makes the difference. Again the point being made here is not how much you hear, but rather what you ascribe value to, because it is what you ascribe value to that will determine what requires your attention. Consequently, what requires your attention ultimately determines what you need to do next. Successful people are able to filter out that which amounts to actionable information from that which constitutes ambient noise. It is this distinction that enables them to enhance access to opportunity and mitigate risk.


7. The distraction of the unfamiliar

Almost anything that is new, different or unfamiliar can create a distraction. However, having one's concentration momentarily broken may not necessarily be the worst thing, particularly where this might offer new insights that could help to re-balance perspectives and positions. Rather, the problem is more likely to arise when concentration is continually broken in a way that points to shallow reasoning, a lack of commitment or transactional values. In simple terms, it is almost impossible to complete or finish any task if you lack the capacity and intensity to see it through to completion. By contrast the most successful people are determined, resolute and conscientious. As such, they are better able to avoid the risks associated with those who exhibit indecisive tendencies.


In conclusion, when you are distracted you lose focus. When you lose focus you are no longer paying attention. When you are no longer paying attention standards slip, behaviours become erratic, decisions become questionable and end goals are compromised. By themselves distractions are unavoidable. Everyone has to face them but it is ultimately how you deal with them that makes the difference. To that that end, living with distraction puts you on the pathway to learning, but when you avoid being distracted, you are on the pathway to success.



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