You might be struggling with one, even as you read this. They’re everywhere these days, stealing moments of your life, cajoling you to cavort with your Facebook friends while you should have your eyes on the road, turning an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich into a burned heap of slag because you were trying to accomplish three other things before you needed to flip it on the frying pan.
These are the demons that render your life useless, the distractions that impose themselves on things we know matter more. They come in many forms, and like physiological illnesses almost everyone is susceptible.
You know the one that slyly cajoles you into leaving a tuchas shaped indentation in your couch? It’s a creeping malaise that convinces you how useless it would be to propel yourself up and into action. You sit, you channel surf, you sit some more.
Sometimes it sneaks up on you when you think you’re out in the world doing something useful. How many times have you nearly forgotten to get off the subway train at your stop, barely making it through the doors before they close and the train pulls out of the station again? Malaise, torpor, lassitude, dullness: when this demon pays a visit everything slows down. You sit and sit and time speeds by, as if you were inside a massive gravitational field and everyone else were back on Earth. In fact, this demon can actually convince you that you really don’t give a damn about getting much of anything done, come to think of it. That includes taking care of the dishes waiting in your sink. It tells you that if you even tried to wash them it wouldn’t really make much difference, wouldn’t be worth the time. Good enough is good enough. What’s the difference if you dig a matching pair of socks directly from your heaped laundry pile before it even finds its way back into your bureau?
That energy sucking demon has a pernicious sibling. It’s a stupid little time wasting monster that lurks in your hand, stealing every last moment of attention you used to spend looking out at the world, listening to people, reading books and magazines, or even just thinking about things. It insinuates itself like a whispered promise in a seedy bar. It entices you to a moment of expectant pleasure, then proceeds to consume more of your life than you had to give.This demon hums a mesmerizing tune, telling you that the games on your smart phone are just brief moments of fun in your otherwise serious days, that everyone gets stuck looking at their device from time to time, that whatever your game of choice may be is just a silly, guilty pleasure, that it hurts no one, that it’s your own private stress relief. “Just one more level,” you say to yourself as your digital drug of choice warbles a new enticement. “What’s the harm?”
Forty-five minutes later your afternoon has a gaping hole in it, your focus is gone, your lips are tight, and all you’ve got to show for it is an extra magic star in your user profile for getting a little closer to the next level up.
Makes you want to visit the kitchen, doesn’t it? Grab a cookie? Just one? Or, if you’re being honest with yourself, grab “Just one more.”
Maybe you should see what your friends are doing on Facebook again. You could do that, take the edge off, check in with other people, feel a little less lonely. But then you’re in the clutches of yet another demon, another entity prying away your precious time. With everyone’s smiling social media face staring back at you through the screen, it’s tough to stop scrolling down the list looking for juicy morsels. You scroll, you click, you scroll some more, and suddenly, after one too many social media lollipops, your afternoon is sucked dry.
Distractors are not hard to find. They predate electronics and every generation presents new ways for us to ignore the more meaningful pursuits of our lives. The funny thing is that most of the stuff that distract us from what matters was created by people who were not distracted, at least not during the time they were creating the distraction. The team that built your latest mobile real-time strategy game likely pursued it like a laser beam while they were head down in the code. On a mission to deliver they were NOT distracted. They managed to keep the demons at bay, to compartmentalize life in a constructive way, to get something done.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the result of their creative spirit is draining you of your own life. But products of the wired world are only one kind of distractor. There are many ways to lose yourself to uselessness. Not every distractor turns out to be in a screen. To outwit the demons, tell yourself that your goals matter, and that no matter what they may be whispering in your ear, those demonic distractors really aren’t as interesting in learning how to live intentionally in the first place.
You can still stare off into the distance when you ride the metro downtown. The difference is that while you’re traveling, you don’t forget to feel the vibration of the tracks, hear the voices of fellow riders, see the signs of life outside the train. We all need to stare outwards sometimes, drift inwards sometimes, but when we’re not in control of our travels, we’re relegate ourselves to moving through space with nowhere useful to go.