Art of Distraction

Distraction: a thing that prevents someone from concentrating on something else



Distractions can be positive or negative, purposeful or a waste of time, leading to a creative idea or a relaxed mind or disappointment with yourself for procrastinating.

A distraction has many meanings, such as ‘a diversion or recreation’ – i.e. killing time, diversion, amusement, pastime, or activity. Oxford Languages says a distraction can also be ‘an extreme agitation of the mind’ – i.e. hysteria, madness, or insanity.

Avoiding a situation completely, or over the long-term, and continually avoiding it by doing other things, constitutes negative distractions that are fear-based, habit-forming, and an ineffective use of time, says the HealthyPlace website.

A positive distraction is a healthy way of coping with a situation, problem, distress, or challenge. The HealthyPlace website says distraction is temporary, de-escalating, and short-term. It is also purposeful. in How to Use Distractions to Cope with Distress (2019) says a positive distraction plan has three purposes:

  1. It buys you time so your emotions can calm down
  2. It helps you cope with a crisis without making a situation worse
  3. It soothes your emotions until you can effectively solve the problem.

DISTRACTION PRACTICE provides the following methods for positive distractions that help problem-solving:

  1. Distract with pleasurable activities
  2. Distract by paying attention to others
  3. Distract your thoughts – by not thinking of the problem or the solution, but to think of positive memories or creative images
  4. Distract yourself by physically leaving a negative situation – i.e. walking away
  5. Distract yourself with tasks and chores
  6. Distract yourself by counting breaths, sheep, anything.

A distraction can be any activity that takes you temporarily away from the task you should be doing. If you should be working at home, and are bored, or are having a mind-block, lack of motivation, a wandering mind, or are in need of ‘thinking time’ – then a distraction might be doodling, making a drink, playing with the dog, texting someone, calling someone, doing a crossword, having lunch, fiddling with the remote etc. Longer duration distractions could include shopping, talking to the neighbour, picking your children up from school etc.


Distractions cover a wide variety of activities.


Mani S. Sivasubramanian sees distractions as negative, saying in the 2012 book How to Focus – Stop Procrastinating, Improve Your Concentration & Get Things Done – Easily! – ‘focus helps you do something. Distraction makes you avoid doing anything.’ Jenny Odell agrees in her 2020 book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – ‘In the short term, distractions can keep us from doing the things we want to do. In the longer term, however, they can accumulate and keep us from living the lives we want to live, or, even worse, undermine our capacities for reflection and self-regulation.’ Both of these authors mention distraction in terms of avoidance.

A distraction can be inappropriate or dangerous. For example, being distracted by your phone as you are crossing the road, or using your phone during a work meeting.


Distraction – in all its forms – does not necessarily address core issues.


“Goals for the future distract from worry and anger about the past and redirect your focus to the direction you’re travelling in.” – Sam Owen, 500 Relationships and Life Quotes: Bite-Sized Advice For Busy People

“I guess I was actually sort of grateful that someone else was taking over my life. I mean, I’m obviously pretty terrible at managing my own life, so it was nice to know that it was in good hands. But also, it was nice to have all these concrete tasks to do and be sort of distracted and consumed by them. It kept me from thinking about every depressing and weird thing that was going on at that time.” – Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

“I need distractions. Good distractions, not bad ones. A good distraction for me is a great play.” – Danny Aiello

“A puppy is the ultimate distraction.” – Philip Rosenthal

“We did a two month tour with Taj Mahal that was really healing and cathartic and a good distraction after my brother passed away. Then I knew I wanted to take a year off, and it was really nice to have that chance to fall apart.” – Bonnie Raitt





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