Ironshrink

How to live with a human mind.

Turn Temptation Into Discipline

Don't run from temptation; seize the opportunity to build focus.

Maybe you’ve heard the same complaints that I have about Western culture: we’re becoming too undisciplined; too unfocused. These new electronic distractions, like Facebook and Twitter, are destroying our ability to attend to any one task.

I’m not sure what to think about that. I know a lot of very focused, successful people. As for me, I was terribly distracted and wasteful of my time long before the Internet. Still, the electronic world puts distraction at our fingertips. Or, reframed in a more positive light, electronic connectedness offers increased opportunity to practice discipline and focus.

Over at my blog, ironshrink.com, Michele wrote in to ask how she can persuade her own mind that video games are a waste of time. I suggested that trying to persuade herself might be counterproductive for the same reason that it’s counterproductive to tell yourself not to think of an elephant. There’s a more direct route to habit change, wonderfully articulated by Victor Frankl:

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“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

If we slow down and notice that tiny moment just as we feel beckoned toward the video game, or the donut, or the shopping spree, then we can choose our next action with intention rather than acting on autopilot. Go here if you want to read my advice to Michele on how to seize that moment between stimulus and response.

I imagine Michele as someone who, like me, has video games at her fingertips. One click of the mouse, and I’m rescued from my duties and anxieties. Like magic, stress is replaced by fantasy and release. (For now, anyway. There’s always a price to pay, and the mind seems oblivious to that fact.)

Interruptions and temptations are not a new problem. Before video games, people got lost in books, television, and other diversions. Perhaps electronics have made it easier to become unfocused – they certainly are insistent in demanding our attention. 

That also means that we have more opportunities than ever to practice resisting temptation and choosing discipline.

Shawn Smith is a licensed psychologist in Denver, Colorado.

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