Pursuit of pleasant sensations is in fact the very root of suffering. – Buddha
Our world is becoming increasingly filled with distraction. Information moves faster, brighter, and noisier than ever before. Social media, entertainment, and product marketing have never been so prevalent all begging for our attention and focus. However, in doing so our minds are diverted from more important things, more immediate things until we become mesmerised or obsessed with chasing what tomorrow might bring. Then we wake up one day and realise that half of our life has passed by simply because we ignored the now in favour of looking forward to what might be just over the horizon.
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We seem obsessed less with what makes us happy now but more with what new things might make us happy in the future. But these sensations are often such ephemeral and meaningless vibrations that when we finally experience them, we don’t react to them with the contentment we expected; rather we just crave for more and more.
Advertisers and big business know this more than anyone. Most companies searching for what we the consumer wants have a longstanding belief that happiness can only ever be delivered through pleasure. With the side effect that with each passing year our tolerance for unpleasant sensations decreases, and our craving for pleasant sensations increases. Therefore it is no surprise that both scientific research and economic activity are geared to that end, each year producing better painkillers, new flavours for ice cream, more comfortable cars and mattresses, and more addictive games for our devices, so that now most of us need not suffer a single boring moment alone in a coffee shop or while waiting at a bus stop.
Science, educators and increasingly concerned parents have noticed the decline in our attention spans at the same time as research has shown that such constant distractions have increased violence and incidence of depression among pleasure chasers and those of us who are rarely off-line. The fact that we seem to know these things aren’t good for us rarely helps as most people will freely admit that they spend too much time checking e-mail, watching television, or playing games on their phones or worse still feeling guilty for giving a 2 year old their device to play games on just to grab a few moments to themselves.
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These are all relatively new time-thieving distractions so we perhaps hear more about them. But there are other more established, subtle distractions that steal our time, which can be just as detrimental if not worse. These are not announced with blinking lights or device beeping sounds. In fact, they have become so commonplace and ever-present, we hardly notice their existence anymore. But once these distractions take up residence in our heads they can wreak havoc simply by keeping us from living our lives to their greatest potential.
Here’s a few time thieving distraction that may have quietly taken up residence in your head or in your heart. How many do you recognise in yourself?
Regrets from your Past. To live is to experience regret. Nobody escapes this one life unscathed. We regret decisions, our actions, and our bad motivations. But no amount of regret will ever change your past and only those who recognize that and truly admit their imperfections will move beyond them. If you made a mistake admit it to yourself, learn from it and if necessary offer an apology and then move on.
The Empty Promise of Tomorrow. Joshua.G.Clark once said: “We waste so many days waiting for the weekend. So many nights wanting morning. Our lust for future comfort is the biggest thief of life.” It isn’t totally foolish to look towards the future and plan accordingly. However, when we endure our todays only for the sake of tomorrow (the weekend, the holiday or your retirement), we risk missing out on the full beauty and potential of the present.
The Pursuit of Perfection. Pursuing excellence and pride in things we do is not a bad thing. But doing your best and doggedly pursuing perfection are not the same thing. When perfection becomes the goal, it also becomes the enemy of progress because it too often distracts us from taking that essential risk of moving forward.
The Accumulation of Possessions. The things we own require our time, our energy, our attention and our money. Every new possession adds increased stress into our lives. Most of us continue to accumulate or actively pursue more and more. But more things are never the answer and far too often they become just one more distraction.
The Desire for Wealth. Those who crave riches have misplaced their greatest potential. Our lives were designed for contribution so we might provide a positive impact on society for ourselves, our families, and those who live around us. Sometimes, our contribution and hard work provides financial excess. Other times, it does not. But when our contribution to society becomes chiefly motivated through a selfish desire to accumulate more wealth, it becomes self defeating because by investing more and more time chasing riches we always run the risk of losing our ability to live life to the fullest.
The Allure of Pleasure. Most of us work hard so what is wrong with a little pleasure? I know I enjoy it. But here’s the problem, pleasure is a terrible teacher. The most significant lessons we learn in life are rarely received during times of pleasure. Instead, they are often born out of pain. I am really not suggesting that we should seek pain in our lives. But what I will say is that a life lived chiefly for the pursuit of pleasure, will usually end up looking for ot it in all the wrong places.
Active Indifference. Our chaotic world offers many opportunities to make a positive contribution to the lives of others not because we feel we have to but because we really want to. Those who choose to live life as a victim will always miss their opportunity to give. Additionally, those who choose to adopt an indifference to the world around them will always miss out on their greatest potential. But those who recognize need and seek to do something about it through a sense of compassion and a willingness to make a difference will experience a joy and fulfilment that can never be discovered anywhere else.
The Need for Fame or Notoriety. Today’s media is populated by a legion of A-Z list celebrities many of whom seem to be famous simply because they are… famous. In today’s fast moving world of social media and throwaway TV the popular idea of some people achieving their 15 minutes of fame seems to have been boiled down to little more than 15 seconds for most of them. The life you live is the life you live regardless if anybody notices or not. Those whose shallow lives focus on their need to be recognized are usually the ones who take shortcuts to get there anyway. Instead, find significance in the eyes of those who know you best because, as any lonely and faded celebrity of yesterday will tell you, in the end, that is all that really matters.
Our world is full of distractions and the most dangerous are those we do not even recognize. But you’ll never reach your full potential unless you can spot the ones that have become a negative part of your life story.
Love your life so much you want to write about it and take a thousand pictures. Tell people you love them and get out of your comfort zone by sometimes talking to complete strangers and do other things that may scare you at first. Don’t do it for affect for approval or fame do it all for yourself – because in the end so many of us will die with no one remembering a single thing we did let alone how many facebook or twitter followers we once had. So cut out those life sapping distractions and make your one life the best story that ever was… don’t waste another minute.