How To Stay Focused: Don’t Get Triggered Into A Distracted Day

What do you mean? Of course it is relevant! The dog's name is Trigger and he's distracted.

What do you mean? Of course it is relevant! The dog’s name is Trigger and he’s distracted. Don’t believe me? Ask SarahDeer – it’s her photo.

One day Several days An undisclosed number of days went like this for me…

I wake up, groan, and grab my laptop to check email, Facebook, and website traffic. Two hours later (where did the time go?) I’m rumbling downstairs to eat cereal and watch Whose Line Is It Anyway? while I eat. After that, I watch two more episodes.

Great Scott, this guy is lazy.

~ Your Thoughts Exactly

It gets worse…

I check email, Facebook, and website stats again after the shows. A couple hours later, I get hungry and find lunch. Another show flickers on the screen. Then, I feel like I need to do something productive, and open up my browser with that intent. I go to check Facebook really quickly first, and click on a must-read article.

After that, I read three more articles that I stumble across, while checking email and website stats intermittently. Soon enough, it is dinner time. I eat dinner and go back to the laptop, checking to see if I have any new messages since I had left a couple of comments on Facebook.

I get a snack. It’s close to bedtime, and I stop to think with an expression that conveys, “was I just robbed?”

As outsiders call me names like “lazy boy” and “slobster,” I feel like I was robbed of my time, but who robbed me?

As I retraced my steps, I found a number of trigger bandits who stole my time:

  • The morning trigger bandit – grab the laptop and check all stats.
  • The eating trigger bandit – when I eat, which is frequently, I usually watch a show.
  • The return to laptop trigger bandit – when I leave the computer and come back, I check all of the latest stats, emails, and notifications because something may have changed!
  • The browser trigger bandit – when I open the web browser, and at any time using it, it’s instinct to check social media, email, and stats.
  • The stats trigger bandit – This trigger is specific to website stats. At any time, I can monitor traffic numbers in real time (I use clicky), so I’ll often check traffic, and then watch it forever because it moves.

Did anyone else struggle with addiction to those screensavers where text bounced off the screen edges?

The reason these trigger responses exist for me is because they are 1) effortless and 2) entertaining/interesting. Anything with those attributes is a very attractive and rewarding combo for the brain, making it a prime candidate for (a bad) habit. Unfortunately, the short term entertainment isn’t worth much of anything later – it’s like eating your harvest in the summer time or spending money that could have been invested in Apple in 2000.

Are You In Control?

In the above example, I was being tossed around like a pinball. My actions were predictable in the worst way. I flocked to the next most interesting detail of the moment, while my brain slept. I was pushed around by triggers like a little girl. I like to insult myself occasionally for motivation.

There is another way, and that is to be the one giving orders.

AM Wake Up Trigger

  1. Open eyes and keep them open
  2. Stretch
  3. Put feet on the floor
  4. Drink a glass of water
  5. Eat breakfast and check web stats and email
  6. Shower
  7. Write

This is how to control your day – set your response in advance for key triggers.

Now after rising, I’m clean, hydrated, fed, updated, and working on my important habit (writing). It’s a near-perfect start to the day for me, and relatively easy to execute. Making a trigger-specific list takes away your excuse of not knowing what to do when triggered (not knowing what to do pushes you onto the path of least resistance).

But even with a focused list, triggers can suck you into their time-dissolving mouths and it’s gross in there. Once triggered, you’ll go into autopilot unless you’re aware of it. And you have to choose to be aware because a triggered habit is very sneaky – it is always justified in your mind at first. Even bad habits are your normal, expected behavior.

Four Trigger Tips

1. Don’t try to control all of your triggers at once. This is another angle to view habits from, because every habit has some kind of trigger. As I’ve advised with habits, pick one or two (just one if you don’t know your willpower strength).

2. Be aware of your default behavior with a specific trigger and consciously replace it with your new desired behavior. When I get up in the morning, I look at my laptop and choose to go down and get water/breakfast instead. Then when I finish eating, I recognize the desire to check something else and reject it in favor of the shower. This keeps things moving along, and with repetition, I’ll have a much better habit.

3. The most important habit you can develop (that this teaches you) is behavior-awareness – it helps you identify bad habits. Be aware of what you do each day and why, and you’ve taken the first step to improve. The more bad habits you replace, the more your life will be to your liking.

4. This is not about fixing all of your problems, it’s about living the best life you can! If this feels burdensome to you, you’re thinking about it the wrong way (and making it more difficult). Think of it as upgrading instead of “fixing.” You’re trading one behavior for another better one.

What trigger behavior of yours could use an overhaul? I recommend focusing on your morning routine first because it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

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