What Are Internal Distractions?

Internal Distractions generally fall into two categories.

1.Thoughts: Our mind kicks out nearly 60,000 thoughts each day, and often we get hooked and we create long stories or conversations with ourselves. Our thoughts are distractions if they interfere with what we are doing in the present moment.

2.Emotions: Intense emotions are created by our thoughts so quickly we may miss the thoughts altogether and get caught or hooked by the intensity of the emotions. Once we become hooked to intense emotions we’ll become distracted in the here and now.

Occasionally I’ll look up from what I’m doing to see a scarab appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Appearing out of thin air or perhaps from another dimension, the scarab disappears from my field of view as quickly as it appeared. Accompanying this mirage there’s occasionally a buzzing sound as it flies out of my field of vision.

Do I think I’m witnessing an extra dimensional vision? No. In all probability I was so engrossed in what I was doing at the time of the appearance that my mind had shut off some of my perception and then turned it back on when I looked up from my work, so the scarab was flying toward me but I was unaware of its presence until I looked up and caught sight of it in mid-flight.

What Are External Distractions?

External Distractions are generally obvious when they occur.

External Distractions swarm around us in such large numbers that they often become part of the background noise of our lives.

  • Cars Passing By
  • Lawns Being Mowed
  • Kids Next-Door Playing Tag
  • Phone Notifications
  • Website Popups

But even those things we seemingly don’t pay attention to have a cumulative affect and keep our focus and concentration disrupted.

On a larger scale external distractions disrupt our time with friends, our work efficiency, our sleep, our exercise classes and even our ability to do fully engage with relaxation routines.

External Distractions in the 21st century have become akin to a low level screaming “look at me” and we think we’ve become immune but we haven’t. Reasons To Unplug

In this moment I’m refocusing my attention on an external distraction, but it’s the chatter in my head of the internal distraction that is tugging at me to see what’s going on. It’s kind of a chicken or an egg situation. Either way I’m distracted, pulled off my set course and it will take time to correct my course and settle the waves down to where my attention was before.

My mind had shut off all external distractions while I focused. And once I shifted my focus the projector (so to speak) started running again. Oh sure, if I open my imagination wide enough I can accept the possibility that this scarab appeared and then disappeared into another realm. I’ve thought about this scarab a number of times because it’s the only thing that has had this type of appearance and disappearance over the years of my life. I mean why not a grapefruit rolling along the floor, appearing and disappearing, why a scarab?

My experiences with the appearing and disappearing of the scarab is a good example of how distractions work. A distraction will break through your conscious awareness and hook your attention. The hook may come from an external distraction such as a cell phone, a barking dog, the smell of coffee brewing or a myriad of noises calling your name in the external world.

Internal distractions are far more powerful and prevalent then external distractions, but we often don’t recognize the internal hooks until they have hooked us. We often need to get tied up tightly in our own thoughts before we notice them.

Society Loves External Distractions

Society loves easy answers to problems (real or imagined) and blaming cell phones, video games and all the other external time sinks robbing us of our attention is how we avoid looking at the root cause for loss of attention and focus.

So what is my take on all this? I’m saying that external distractions have no ( very minuscule) power over our attention and time if we recognize our internal distractions and deal with those. Of course our internal distractions don’t lend themselves to easy fixes such as taking away a cell phone for a couple of days.

Mindfulness creates space for us to deal and observe our internal distractions and it’s that space that gives us the strength and awareness to ignore the repeated screaming surrounding us in the form of external distractions. If we deal with the internal distractions within us the external distractions won’t be able to hook us, they will become merely background while losing their claws that hook us.

10 Stops Along Life’s Slippery Slope of Distractions
distractions to a peaceful mind are all around us

Below are 10 slides listing internal distractions. I’m sure you can come up with many more to add to the list but spending too much time creating an exhaustive list would in of itself be a distraction. Take a look at the list to see what might jump out at you.

Recognizing the internal distractions that cause you to easily be hooked by external distractions will give you room to not be hooked or at the least hooked less often. The more we recognize out internal struggles the less need we have to anesthetize ourselves.

One questions that I often hear is, “aren’t my internal distractions influenced by external distractions?” This is another chicken an egg quandary, but the easy answer is that any external pressure you feel is created by a lack of internal awareness. What I mean is, If we understand what’s happening inside our minds the outside world loses much of its power to disrupt our focus and awareness.

Chasing Perfection
Chasing Perfection

Chasing perfection is a no win goal. Perfection doesn’t exist and if we spend an unimaginable amount of time on a project we risk accomplishing very little.

Ask yourself why am I seeking perfection? And what’s keeping me so stressed out? take a long walk to clear your head or meditate to help give you more space within yourself.

yesterday's sorrow
Yesterday’s Sorrow

It’s so easy to get caught in the emotional roller coaster that is the past. We all have a bucketful of regrets and sorrows that can hook us seemingly out of nowhere.

if we decide to grab onto our sorrow about what might have been or allow the hook of guilt to control the direction of our life we lose and everyone around us loses.

Try going somewhere new such as a museum or join a yoga class or spinning class. Getting active can help shake your brain cells into looking focusing on the now, on the present moment.

waiting for the weekend
Waiting For The Weekend

Grasping toward the future is a bit like running away from rain clouds when your thirsty, you’re running toward something that doesn’t exist, never has exited and never will exist. It’s easy to get hooked into thinking if I can just hold on, a time will come where everything will be fine.

Instead of waiting for the future try doing something small right now that will open space within yourself. Of course 5 minutes of mindfulness practice is a great place to start.

jonesing for wealth
Jonesing For Wealth

This is one of those distractions that gets confusing for many people, it’s not about getting or not getting rich it’s about making it the primary motivation of your life.

For those of you who don’t know, when someone talks about jonesing for something they are talking about craving or needing something to the point of obsession, needing it to the point that it blocks out all other things and people.

Getting in touch with this distraction requires we spend lots more time with family and friends doing simple things like walks in the woods, cooking together, playing board games and practicing meditation with a group or yourself.

need to compare
Need To Compare

Ask yourself do I compare how I look in comparison to others? Do I choose my friends by how they compare with others. Do I judge people by race, religion, DNA?

Sometimes I think we all compare ourselves and others to a set of benchmarks that requires we exclude people who don’t measure up because of how they dress, what they eat, where they went to school, etc.

In the long list of internal distractions this is very common to most people, we all have a desire to associate with people who are like us, but this can lead us to become closed minded and petty.

The best things we can do when we see ourselves making judgements based on comparisons is to get yourself somewhere where you can volunteer to help others.

I created a short video to showcase the 10 Distractions We Avoid. Cycling through the distractions opens a more visceral experience than just reading the blog post.

10 Distractions We Avoid
accumulation of possessions
Accumulation Of Possessions

The accumulation of possessions is not the same as the above distraction Jonesing For Wealth. There is no requirement for a person to be wealthy in order to become obsessed with getting more things.

I once knew a man who hated to see open spaces in his home, so he would fill every counter, tabletop and windowsill with stuff. The stuff didn’t seem to matter, no the only important thing was accumulating stuff to fill the space within his home.

The distraction obviously was inside his mind but it manifested in his need to get more and more stuff. He even boxed up and saved broken electronic equipment and used dish strainers.

craving for notoriety
Craving For Notoriety

If there ever was a time in history where the Craving for Notoriety was in vogue it would be right now. Social media in a few decades has become the dominant player and promoter in getting your likes and dislikes into the zeitgeist, and often when we don’t want to be there.

And like most of these distraction on my list notoriety in and of itself is neither good or bad, it’s when we allow it to become something that pushes people and ideas to the side in order to achieve it. The hook of notoriety can become all that matters to some and how they define who they are, that’s not healthy. Am I Right?

chasing happiness
Chasing Happiness

I’ve never heard another person tell someone that a big goal in life is to chase happiness, and I’ve never heard the advice of giving chasing happiness everything you’ve got.

But, is there any doubt that society exhorts us to chase happiness as a worthy goal. It may be the barge of advertising equating a new car, a new house or even a new spouse with achieving happiness. Society tells us that more and better stuff is why we work so hard and that in the end it’ll bring us happiness. What Do You Think?

It’s no wonder so many people feel like they’ve failed to find happiness. And it’s not a new phenomenon either, remember the quote from Henry David Thoreau in Walden “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

judging ourself
Judging Ourself

I know over the years I’ve spent more time than I will admit, passing judging myself unkindly. And I’m fairly sure it did little to change any situations leading to the judgment.

When we tack a string of judgments to our thoughts and actions all we are accomplishing is the strengthening of our our ego. It may surprise you that both judgment and praise of oneself are a product of ego, a grasping for control within our own mind.

The result of self praise or self judgment is to widen the gap between ourselves and those we associate with or come in contact with.

Self praise and self judgment erases compassion, empathy and love for others, traits the ego dislikes immensely.


Internal and External Distractions Slides

Internal Distractions
mindfulness practice distractions

It’s easy to think an obvious distraction is the cause of our jitteryness, our inability to concentrate, to pay attention to the task at hand. But often it’s the non-obvious distraction that is the real cause of our discomfort. Check out this additional post for another look at distractions. Distractions To Mindfulness.