Saying No to Distractions

Tell me if this sounds like you: you’re sitting there, working away, when suddenly you hit a wall. You get stumped. You have to answer a question, figure something out, solve a problem. It’ll take work and some deep thinking. But… instead of expending that energy, you decide it’s way easier to flip over to Facebook or your favorite news site and peruse for a while. Just a quick breather and you’ll get back to that problem.

If you’re anything like me, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll be the first to admit that I find the internet really fun to surf. At once a fantastic tool and a frustrating annoyance, the instant accessibility of anything but what I’m working on is too much to resist most times. Yet I’ve come to realize that I use the internet during my work day not as a tool to further my craft but as a way to avoid creative work.

Not just hard work, mind you. I actually enjoy hard work. It makes the day go by fast, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of heading home with the knowledge that I worked hard and accomplished things. But often I find myself coming up against a wall creatively—times when I have to figure out how to animate something, how to piece together a content edit, or simply reply to an email that requires thought—and instead of pushing through the block I run away from it. I go away and do something else until the necessity of deadlines and responsibility forces me to address the issue.

The problem with that is I’m training myself in the wrong habit. The way an artist grows creatively is to face those walls, not run away. It’s by overcoming those walls that I learn how to do things, that I expand my ability to problem-solve. Once that muscle is strong and becomes second nature, I can move on from merely overcoming the problem and into the realm of taking my creative solutions a level or two higher.

Things are busy right now in the IHOP-KC edit suites. Deadlines are looming, projects are piling, the staff is small—and those are just things at work. My outside life is full of activities and projects I want to complete. If I want to be a professional novelist and screenwriter, I have to write every day; I can’t wait for inspiration to strike. I can’t afford to run away.

So today at work I made a distinct choice to stop running from the problems. I made a list of the things I needed to do and worked until I checked each of them off. Every time the urge came to check Facebook I shook my head and told myself, “There are more important things to do. Keep going.” And I got things done.

A lot in the American life is about saying yes to every desire. “I want chocolate!” is quickly followed by a trip to Walmart. A yearning for entertainment is silenced by popping up Netflix or YouTube. We pride ourselves that the American dream is instant gratification of any want, but the downside is that we can no longer say no, even when we know we have important things to do.

It comes down to training myself in the little things. I have to train myself to do the opposite of what my body wants. When the alarm goes off in the morning, I have to get up right away. When I’m typing on my computer late at night and I crave the chocolate-covered, peanut butter-filled pretzels in my fridge, I have to say no. Those choices will strengthen my muscle, and when I hit that creative wall at work or when I don’t want to write and would rather read, I’ll be able to keep going.

One final note: I can’t win by myself. It would be easy to think that with my own strength I can master my propensity for distraction and wanting the easy way out. But a broken person can’t fix his brokenness. I need something stronger and unbroken to fix me. If I want to continue to say no to distraction, I ultimately need Jesus. I need his Spirit living in me, helping me say no to what my body wants and yes to what he’s called me to be.

Tomorrow I’ll go into work and make a list of the things I need to do. I’ll take a breath and ask Jesus to give me strength. And I’ll get things done.

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