Willpower and Distractions

You hear the chime of your smart phone or tablet letting you know someone has new information for you-but you resist the urge to look at the notification. A nearby coworker is talking too loud and you try not to listen to their conversation. While working on a task with a quickly approaching deadline, you keep having thoughts of a phone call you should have made earlier, but you resist the urge to make the call because you HAVE to get this other task done now. What do all of these situations have in common? They are wearing you down and limiting your ability to do your best work.

We often hear the phrase, "Willpower is like a muscle-the more you use it, the stronger it gets." I agree with the principle, but HOW we exercise that willpower is the critical element. Always resisting the urge to succumb to the distraction is mentally tiring, and while we are resisting, we aren't fully focusing on the task at hand.

In the case of the distractions I mentioned at the beginning, let's look at some ways to exercise willpower that can ultimately lead to a stronger focus in the present moment:

  • Electronic notifications. Turn them off and develop a daily routine of when you will check your social media accounts or email.
  • Noisy coworker. Try having a conversation with them, letting them know how loud they really are. I am a notoriously loud talker, and actually appreciate it when someone reminds me, "You think you are whispering... but you're not." If the coworker won't quieten down, break out the ear buds and turn on some instrumental music-just don't choose music with lyrics... that's a new distraction in itself.
  • The phone call. Why not just make the call? You don't have to spend 30 minutes on the phone. Let the person know you are working on a tight deadline and will need to reach out to them after you have finished the current task. They will appreciate your honesty, and acknowledging the need to make the call.

Several years ago, a Valujet pilot was celebrated for safely flying his plane through a terrible hailstorm with no injuries to the passengers or crew. A few days later one shrewd airline pilot asked this question, "Why didn't he ask for a flight pattern that would take him around the hailstorm in the first place?"

Ours is a similar situation. We can spend all day trying to resist the constant flow of distractions coming at us, or we can exercise REAL willpower and be able to execute more clearly and strongly on the tasks in our day.